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BMC Health Services Research

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Spinal epidural abscess (SEA) -- Treatments -- Case Studies


Introduction: Spinal epidural abscess (SEA) is a rare and life-threatening infection with increasing incidence over the past two decades. Delays in diagnosis can cause significant morbidity and mortality among patients.

Objective: The objective of this study was to describe trends in time-to-imaging and intervention, risk factors, and outcomes among patients presenting to the emergency department with SEA at a single academic medical center in Portland, Oregon.

Methods: This retrospective cohort study analyzed data from patients with new SEA diagnosis at a single hospital from October 1, 2015 to April 1, 2018. We describe averages to time-to-imaging and interventions, and frequencies of risk factors and outcomes among patients presenting to the emergency department with SEA.

Results: Of the 34 patients included, 7 (20%) died or were discharged with plegia during the study period. Those who died or were discharged with plegia (n = 7) had shorter mean time-to-imaging order (20.8 h versus 29.2 h). Patients with a history of intravenous drug use had a longer mean time-to-imaging order (30.2 h versus 23.7 h) as compared to those without intravenous drug use. Patients who died or acquired plegia had longer times from imaging completed to final imaging read (20.9 h versus 7.1 h), but shorter times from final imaging read to surgical intervention among patients who received surgery (4.9 h versus 46.2 h). Further, only three (42.9%) of the seven patients who died or acquired plegia presented with the three-symptom classic triad of fever, neurologic symptoms, and neck or back pain.

Conclusions: SEA is a potentially deadly infection that requires prompt identification and treatment. This research provides baseline data for potential quality improvement work at the study site. Future research should evaluate multi-center approaches for identifying and intervening to treat SEA, particularly among patients with intravenous drug use.


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