Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) shunting is required for the treatment of many children withhydrocephalus. The usual procedure uses a silicone rubber device with a proximal portion inserted into the ventricle, a unidirectional valve, and a distal segment that diverts the CSF from the ventricles to either the peritoneal cavity (ventriculoperitoneal [VP] shunt) or right atrium (ventriculoatrial [VA] shunt). The incidence of shunt infection ranges from 1–20% (average, 10%). The highest rates are reported in young infants, patients with prior shunt infections, and certain etiologies of hydrocephalus. Most infections result from intraoperative contamination of the surgical wound by skin flora. Accordingly, coagulase-negative staphylococci are isolated in more than half the cases.S. aureus is isolated in approximately 20% and gram-negative bacilli in 15% of cases.
Four distinct clinical syndromes have been described
colonization of the shunt, infection associated with wound infection, distal infection with peritonitis, and infection associated with meningitis. The most common type of infection iscolonization of the shunt, with nonspecific symptoms that reflect shunt malfunction as opposed to frank infection. Symptoms associated with colonized VP shunts include lethargy, headache, vomiting, a full fontanel, and abdominal pain. Fever is common but may be <39°C (102.2°F). Symptoms usually occur within months of the surgical procedure.
Colonization of a VA shunt results in more severe systemic symptoms, and specific symptoms of shunt malfunction are often absent. Septic pulmonary emboli, pulmonary hypertension, and infective endocarditis are frequently reported complications of VA shunt colonization. Chronic VA shunt colonization may cause hypocomplementemic glomerulonephritis from antigen-antibody complex deposition in the glomeruli, commonly called “shunt nephritis”; clinical findings include hypertension, microscopic hematuria, elevated blood urea nitrogen and serum creatinine levels, and anemia.
Diagnosis is by Gram stain, microscopy, biochemistry, and culture of CSF
CSF should be obtained by direct aspiration of the shunt before administration of antibiotics, because CSF obtained from either lumbar or ventricular puncture is often sterile. It is unusual to observe signs of ventriculitis, and CSF findings can be only minimally abnormal. Blood culture results are usually positive in VA shunt colonization but negative in cases of VP colonization.
Wound infection presents with obvious erythema, swelling, discharge, or dehiscence along the shunt tract and most often occurs within days to weeks of the surgical procedure. S. aureus is the most common isolate. In addition to the physical findings, fever is common, and signs of shunt malfunction eventually ensue in most cases.
Distal infection of VP shunts withperitonitis presents with abdominal symptoms, usually without evidence of shunt malfunction. The pathogenesis is likely related to perforation of bowel at VP shunt placement or translocation of bacteria across the bowel wall. Thus, gram-negative isolates predominate, and mixed infection is common. The infecting organisms are often isolated from only the distal portion of the shunt.