Postoperative surgical site infection (SSI) is a common complication after posterior lumbar spine surgery. This review details an approach to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of SSIs. Factors contributing to the development of a SSI can be split into three categories: (1) microbiological factors; (2) factors related to the patient and their spinal pathology; and (3) factors relating to the surgical procedure. SSI is most commonly caused by Staphylococcus aureus. The virulence of the organism causing the SSI can affect its presentation. SSI can be prevented by careful adherence to aseptic technique, prophylactic antibiotics, avoiding myonecrosis by frequently releasing retractors and preoperatively optimizing modifiable patient factors. Increasing pain is commonly the only symptom of a SSI and can lead to a delay in diagnosis. C-reactive protein and magnetic resonance imaging can help establish the diagnosis. Treatment requires acquiring intra-operative cultures to guide future antibiotic therapy and surgical debridement of all necrotic tissue. A SSI can usually be adequately treated without removing spinal instrumentation. A multidisciplinary approach to SSIs is important. It is useful to involve an infectious disease specialist and use minimum serial bactericidal titers to enhance the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy. A plastic surgeon should also be involved in those cases of severe infection that require repeat debridement and delayed closure.
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