Treatment of primary spinal infection includes medical management with or without surgical intervention. The objective of this study was to identify risk factors for the eventual need for surgery in patients with primary spinal infection on initial presentation.

From January 2010 to July 2019, 275 patients presented with primary spinal infection. Demographic, infectious, imaging, laboratory, treatment, and outcome data were retrospectively reviewed and collected. Thirty-three patients were excluded due to insufficient follow-up (≤ 90 days) or death prior to surgery.

The mean age of the 242 patients was 58.8 ± 13.6 years. The majority of the patients were male (n = 130, 53.7%), White (n = 150, 62.0%), and never smokers (n = 132, 54.5%). Fifty-four patients (22.3%) were intravenous drug users. One hundred fifty-four patients (63.6%) ultimately required surgery while 88 (36.4%) never needed surgery during the duration of follow-up. There was no significant difference in age, gender, race, BMI, or comorbidities between the surgery and no-surgery groups. On univariate analysis, the presence of an epidural abscess (55.7% in the no-surgery group vs 82.5% in the surgery group, p < 0.0001), the median spinal levels involved (2 [interquartile range (IQR) 2-3] in the no-surgery group vs 3 [IQR 2-5] in the surgery group, p < 0.0001), and active bacteremia (20.5% in the no-surgery vs 35.1% in the surgery group, p = 0.02) were significantly different. The cultured organism and initial laboratory values (erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein, white blood cell count, creatinine, and albumin) were not significantly different between the groups. On multivariable analysis, the final model included epidural abscess, cervical or thoracic spine involvement, and number of involved levels. After adjusting for other variables, epidural abscess (odds ratio [OR] 3.04, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.64-5.63), cervical or thoracic spine involvement (OR 2.03, 95% CI 1.15-3.61), and increasing number of involved levels (OR 1.16, 95% CI 1.01-1.35) were associated with greater odds of surgery. Fifty-two surgical patients (33.8%) underwent decompression alone while 102 (66.2%) underwent decompression with fusion. Of those who underwent decompression alone, 2 (3.8%) of 52 required subsequent fusion due to kyphosis. No patient required hardware removal due to persistent infection.

At time of initial presentation of primary spinal infection, the presence of epidural abscess, cervical or thoracic spine involvement, as well as an increasing number of involved spinal levels were potential risk factors for the eventual need for surgery in this study. Additional studies are needed to assess for risk factors for surgery and antibiotic treatment failure.

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