Comparative analysis of chest tube thoracostomy and video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery in empyema and parapneumonic effusion associated with pneumonia in children

Abdulhameed Aziz, Jeffrey M Healey, Faisal Qureshi, Timothy D Kane, Geoffrey Kurland, Michael Green, David J Hackam
Surgical Infections 2008, 9 (3): 317-23

BACKGROUND: Controversy exists regarding the optimal management strategy for children having empyema or parapneumonic effusion as a complication of pneumonia. We hypothesized that video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS)-assisted drainage of pleural fluid and debridement of the pleural space is superior to a chest tube alone in the management of these patients. We further identified predictive factors-namely, presentation, radiographic findings, antibiotic usage, and pleural fluid features-that could predict the need for VATS rather than primary chest tube drainage.

METHODS: Forty-nine pediatric patients with pneumonia complicated by parapneumonic effusion or empyema treated at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh (1997-2003) were divided into three groups according to the therapy instituted: Primary chest tube, chest tube followed by VATS, or primary VATS. The groups were analyzed in terms of demographics and outcome, as judged by pleural fluid analysis and hospital resource utilization. Demographic and outcome data were compared among groups using one-way analysis of variance and the Student t-test.

RESULTS: All groups were similar with respect to demographics and initial antibiotic usage. Patients undergoing primary VATS had a higher initial temperature, whereas radiographic findings of mediastinal shift and air bronchograms were more likely to be found in patients who underwent primary chest tube placement. Patients undergoing primary VATS demonstrated a significantly shorter total stay and lower hospital charges than the other groups. Forty percent of children started on chest tube therapy failed even with subsequent VATS, necessitating a significantly longer hospital course (18 +/- 3 vs. 11 +/- 0.8 days; p < 0.05) and higher hospital charges ($50,000 +/- 7,000 vs. $29,000 +/- 1000) than those having primary VATS.

CONCLUSIONS: Patients treated by primary VATS had a shorter stay and lower hospital charges than patients treated by chest tube and antibiotic therapy alone. There were no demographic, physiologic, laboratory, or chest radiographic data that predicted the selection of VATS as an initial treatment. These data suggest a strategy of primary VATS as first-line treatment in the management of empyema or parapneumonic effusion as a complication of pneumonia in pediatric patients.

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