BACKGROUND: The recent consensus definition for the diagnosis of fracture-related infection (FRI) includes the identification of indistinguishable microorganisms in at least 2 surgical deep-tissue specimens as a confirmatory criterion. However, this cut-off, and the total number of specimens from a patient with suspected FRI that should be sent for microbiological testing, have not been validated. We endeavored to estimate the accuracy of different numbers of specimens and diagnostic cut-offs for microbiological testing of deep-tissue specimens in patients undergoing surgical treatment for possible FRI. METHODS: A total of 513 surgical procedures in 385 patients with suspected FRI were included. A minimum of 2 surgical deep-tissue specimens were submitted for microbiological testing; 5 or more specimens were analyzed in 345 procedures (67%). FRI was defined by the presence of any confirmatory criteria other than microbiology. Resampling was utilized to model the sensitivity and specificity of diagnostic cut-offs for the number of surgical specimens yielding indistinguishable microorganisms and for the total number of specimens. The likelihood of detecting all clinically relevant microorganisms was also assessed. RESULTS: A diagnostic cut-off of at least 2 of 5 specimens with indistinguishable microorganisms identified by culture was 68% sensitive (95% confidence interval [CI], 62% to 74%) and 87% specific (95% CI, 81% to 94%) for the diagnosis of FRI. Two out of 3 specimens were 60% sensitive (95% CI, 55% to 66%) and 92% specific (95% CI, 88% to 96%). Submitting only 3 deep-tissue specimens risked missing clinically relevant microorganisms in at least 1 in 10 cases. CONCLUSIONS: The present study was the first to validate microbiological criteria for the diagnosis of FRI, supporting the current confirmatory diagnostic criteria for FRI. Analysis of at least 5 deep-tissue specimens in patients with possible FRI is recommended. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Diagnostic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.
J Bone Joint Surg Am