Neurology India
menu-bar5 Open access journal indexed with Index Medicus
  Users online: 3730  
 Home | Login 
About Editorial board Articlesmenu-bullet NSI Publicationsmenu-bullet Search Instructions Online Submission Subscribe Videos Etcetera Contact
  Navigate Here 
 Resource Links
    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
    Article in PDF (431 KB)
    Citation Manager
    Access Statistics
    Reader Comments
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

  In this Article

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded73    
    Comments [Add]    

Recommend this journal


Table of Contents    
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 64  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 608-609

The war against shunt infections – fighting with our backs to the wall!

Department of Neurosurgery, Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication5-Jul-2016

Correspondence Address:
R Girish Menon
Department of Neurosurgery, Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, Karnataka
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0028-3886.185388

Rights and Permissions

How to cite this article:
Menon R G. The war against shunt infections – fighting with our backs to the wall!. Neurol India 2016;64:608-9

How to cite this URL:
Menon R G. The war against shunt infections – fighting with our backs to the wall!. Neurol India [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Sep 22];64:608-9. Available from:

Ventriculo-peritoneal shunt surgery has exclusive indications even in this endoscopic era. Yet, their effectiveness is often overshadowed by complications such as infection and malfunction. Shunt infections remain a dreaded complication with an incidence ranging from 2.2% to 41%.[1] Any effort to analyze and provide a solution to this vexed problem is welcome and this attempt by Kumar et al., needs to be complimented.

Kumar et al., analysed a total of 156 samples of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and shunt tubes out of which, 79 (50.6%) samples had growth of an organism either in the CSF [36 (23.1%)], in the shunt tubing [16 (10.2%)], or in both [27 (17.3%)]. The most common organisms grown in the cultures were Staphylococcus aureus and coagulase-negative Staphylococcus in the Gram-positive group and  Escherichia More Details coli in the Gram-negative group. This microbial pattern is similar to what has been reported globally. What is alarming is their subsequent observation that the sensitivity pattern of both Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria has shown a significant decreasing sensitivity for various commonly used antibiotics. They have observed an increasing resistance to all cephalosporin and quinolones. They found that the Gram-positive bacteria isolated were more sensitive to linezolid and imipenem, meropenem, and tigecyciline with a sensitivity of more than 60%. Although not adequately reported, these statistics are similar across India. Their concluding remarks that meropenem and teicoplanin with ceftriaxone should be used for prophylaxis should ring warning bells in the entire neurosurgical fraternity. The grounds on which they suggest this recommendation for prophylaxis is not forthcoming in the article and we assume that it was based on the sensitivity pattern observed. Surprisingly, vancomycin, an often used antibiotic against Staphylococcus does not figure in their list. Now that we have exhausted our last arsenal, one is thus left to wonder and ponder at our impending helplessness, when these microbes develop resistance to meropenem and teicoplanin. That day is not far, for sure.

Shunt infection is related to both patient factors and surgeon practices. Prematurity, age less than 6 months, length of the preoperative hospitalization, current ongoing infections, history of previous shunt infection, the history of multiple shunt revisions, post-infectious hydrocephalus (especially tuberculous), post-hemorrhagic hydrocephalus, and hydrocephalus due to spina bifida are a few of the patient related factors predisposing to infection.[1],[2],[3] Many of these patient factors are beyond our control and these limitations need to be accepted. But, what we do have control over, and where we fail to exercise adequate caution, include some surgical practices—the most important among them being failure to adopt a guideline-based technique for shunt surgery, and the avoidance of an indiscriminate use of antibiotics.

Shunt infection rates per patient range from 10% to 22% and around 6.0% per procedure, with 90% of infections occurring within 30 days of surgery.[4] Biofilms play an important role in the development of shunt infections. Biofilms are protected communities of bacteria or fungi capable of attaching to surfaces by forming a heterogeneous structure composed of cellular elements and a complex self-produced matrix. Biofilms are able to evade the host immune defense and are more resistant to antimicrobial treatment. Staphylococcal strains are better able to form biofilms and are more resistant to phagocytosis by neutrophils and antibacterial treatment, which explains their dominance in shunt infections.[4]

The 2013 clinical practice guidelines for antimicrobial prophylaxis in surgery do not recommend their routine use.[5] However, other evidence supports the use of systemic prophylactic antibiotics in preventing shunt infection but also warn that the benefits last only for the first 24 hours, postoperatively.[6] Recent guidelines by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Surgical Infection Society, and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America [5] recommend the use of a single dose of cefazolin for patients undergoing CSF shunt procedures. Clindamycin or vancomycin may be used as alternatives in patients with documented b-lactam allergy, and vancomycin, for patients colonized with meticillin-resistant S. aureus. Use of antibiotics, both for prophylaxis and treatment, needs to be customized based on the institute's antibiotic profile and an universal guideline is not applicable. However, a conscientious approach to avoid the indiscriminate use of antibiotics is the need of the hour.

The WHO-sponsored study on surgical errors found that application of a standardized preoperative checklist effectively reduced mortality rates in a broad range of surgical procedures across multiple international centers and shunt surgery is no different. Protocol based surgeries have proven to reduce shunt infections in four randomized studies.[1],[2],[4] These protocols generally include a uniform surgical technique, minimizing of implant and skin edge manipulation, reduction in human movement in the operating room, performing the procedure as the first one in the morning, avoidance of CSF leakage, use of double gloving, ensuring that the surgery is a short procedure (<30 min), and administering antibiotic prophylaxis. Additional steps include placing a sign on the operating room door restricting traffic, positioning the patient's head away from the main door, hair clipping, removal of dirt and adhesive materials, applying chlorhexidine to the surgical field, waiting three minutes following the skin antisepsis, scrubbing hands with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine, using non-latex double gloves and drapes, administering intravenous antibiotics, and injection of antibiotics into the shunt reservoir. Kestle et al., observed that the application of a standardized protocol for 1571 CSF shunt surgery procedures reduced the infection rate from 8.8% to 5.7% (P = 0.0028).[7] They also observed that the practice of injecting1 ml (10 mg/ml) of vancomycin mixed with 2 ml (2 mg/ml) of gentamicin into the shunt reservoir with a 25-gauge needle (or smaller) after the shunt procedure and prior to closure of wound may be beneficial. This technique, which attempts to overcome the pharmocokinetic limitations of perioperative antibiotics, is seldom practiced in India and is probably worth emulating.

Two surgical practices, which are yet to pass the test of evidence based scrutiny, are the use of antimicrobial sutures and the use of antibiotic-impregnated shunts.[1],[4],[7] Bayston et al., found that antibiotic (clindamycin and rifampicin) impregnated catheters do not prevent microbial adherence but do kill 100% of attached cells in 48–52 hours, even in the presence of a biofilm.[8] Studies favoring these techniques have been small, non-randomized and retrospective, and larger prospective trials are required before they become standard-of-care practices.

Efforts are on to circumvent the multiple barriers of antibiotic evasion employed by the biofilm. Silver-impregnated catheters, which may prevent the initial adherence of bacteria to the catheter, anti-biofilm catheter lock therapies and hydrogels capable of eradicating the biomass and reducing microbe viability of the biofilm are some therapies under experimental trial. Immunotherapy or vaccines against S. epidermidis biofilms is yet another revolutionary idea under active consideration.

  References Top

Dawod J, Tager A, Darouiche RO, al Mohajer M. Prevention and management of internal cerebrospinal fluid shunt infections. Journal of Hospital Infection 2016:1-6. Available from: 2016.03.010. [Last accessed on 2016 Jun 16].  Back to cited text no. 1
Xu H, Hu F, Hu H, Sun W, Jiao W, Li R, Lei T. Antibiotic prophylaxis for shunt surgery of children: A systematic review. Childs Nerv Syst 2016;32:253-8.  Back to cited text no. 2
Rajshekhar V. Management of hydrocephalus in patients with tuberculous meningitis. Neurol India 2009;57:368-74.  Back to cited text no. 3
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
Gutierrez-Murgas Y, Snowden JN. Ventricular shunt infections: Immunopathogenesis and clinical management Journal of NeuroImmunology 2014;276:1-8.  Back to cited text no. 4
Bratzler DW, Dellinger EP, Olsen KM, Perl TM, Auwaerter PG, Bolon MK, et al. Clinical practice guidelines for antimicrobial prophylaxis in surgery. Surg Infect (Larchmt) 2013;14:73e156.  Back to cited text no. 5
Ratilal B, Costa J, Sampaio C. Antibiotic prophylaxis for surgical introduction of intracranial ventricular shunts: Systematic review. J Neurosurg Pediatr 2008;1:48e56.  Back to cited text no. 6
Kestle JR, Riva-Cambrin J, Wellons 3rd JC, Kulkarni AV, Whitehead WE, Walker ML, Hydrocephalus Clinical Research Network. A standardized protocol to reduce cerebrospinal fluid shunt infection: The Hydrocephalus Clinical Research Network Quality Improvement Initiative. J Neurosurg Pediatr 20118(1), 22-9.  Back to cited text no. 7
Bayston R, Ashraf W, Bhundia C. Mode of action of an antimicrobial biomaterial for use in hydrocephalus shunts. J Antimicrob. Chemother 2004; 53:778-82.  Back to cited text no. 8


Print this article  Email this article
Online since 20th March '04
Published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow