The importance of the bacterial spectrum in the clinical diagnostics and management of patients with spontaneous pyogenic spondylodiscitis and isolated spinal epidural empyema: a 20-year cohort study at a single spine center

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review



BACKGROUND: Personalized clinical management of spondylodiscitis (SD) and isolated spinal epidural empyema (ISEE) is challenging due to limited evidence of microbiologic findings and their clinical impact during the clinical course of the disease. We aimed to characterize clinico-microbiological and imaging phenotypes of SD and ISEE to provide useful insights that could improve outcomes and potentially modify guidelines.

METHODS: We performed chart review and collected data on the following parameters: bacterial antibiogram-resistogram, type of primary spinal infection, location of spinal infection, source of infection, method of detection, clinical complications (sepsis, septic embolism, and endocarditis), length of hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) stay, relapse rate, and disease-related mortality in patients with proven pyogenic SD and ISEE treated surgically in a university hospital in Germany between 2002 and 2022.

RESULTS: We included data from 187 patients (125 SD, 66.8% and 62 ISEE, 33.2%). Gram-positive bacteria (GPB) were overall more frequently detected than gram-negative bacteria (GNB) (GPB: 162, 86.6% vs. GNB: 25, 13.4%, p < 0.001). Infective endocarditis was caused only by GPB (GPB: 23, 16.5% vs. GNB: 0, 0.0%, p = 0.046). Methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus was the most frequently isolated strain (MSSA: n = 100, 53.5%), occurred more frequently in the cervical spine compared to other bacteria (OB) (MSSA: 41, 41.0% vs. OB: 18, 20.7%, p = 0.004) and was most frequently detected in patients with skin infection as the primary source of infection (MSSA: 26, 40.6% vs. OB: 11, 16.7%, p = 0.002). Streptococcus spp. and Enterococcus spp. (SE: n = 31, 16.6%) were more often regarded as the cause of endocarditis (SE: 8, 27.6% vs. OB: 15, 11.4%, p = 0.037) and were less frequently detected in intraoperative specimens (SE: 19, 61.3% vs. OB: 138, 88.5%, p < 0.001). Enterobacterales (E: n = 20, 10.7%) were identified more frequently in urinary tract infections (E: 9, 50.0% vs. OB: 4, 3.6%, p < 0.001). Coagulase-negative Staphylococci (CoNS: n = 20, 10.7%) were characterized by a lower prevalence of sepsis (CoNS: 4, 20.0% vs. OB: 90, 53.9%, p = 0.004) and were more frequently detected in intraoperative specimens (CoNS: 20, 100. 0% vs. OB: 137, 82.0%, p = 0.048). Moreover, CoNS-associated cases showed a shorter length of ICU stay (CoNS: 2 [1-18] days vs. OB: 6 [1-53] days, median [interquartile range], p = 0.037), and occurred more frequently due to foreign body-associated infections (CoNS: 8, 61.5% vs. OB: 15, 12.8%, p = 0.008). The presence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) prolonged hospital stay by 56 [24-58] days and ICU stay by 16 [1-44] days, whereas patients with Pseudomonas aeruginosa spent only 20 [18-29] days in the hospital and no day in the ICU 0 [0-5] days.

CONCLUSIONS: Our retrospective cohort study identified distinct bacterial-specific manifestations in pyogenic SD and ISEE regarding clinical course, neuroanatomic targets, method of pathogen detection, and sources of infection. The clinico-microbiological patterns varied depending on the specific pathogens.


Original languageEnglish
Article number39
Number of pages12
JournalBMC infectious diseases
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2024

External IDs

Scopus 85181237473



  • Anti-Bacterial Agents/therapeutic use, Bacteria, Cohort Studies, Discitis/diagnosis, Disease Progression, Empyema/complications, Endocarditis, Bacterial/complications, Gram-Negative Bacteria, Gram-Positive Bacteria, Humans, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Retrospective Studies, Sepsis/complications, Staphylococcal Infections/diagnosis, Staphylococcus aureus

Library keywords