Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Postoperative meningitis after spinal surgery: a review of 21 cases from 20,178 patients

Tung-Yi Lin, Wen-Jer Chen, Ming-Kai Hsieh, Meng-Ling Lu, Tsung-Ting Tsai, Po-Liang Lai, Tsai-Sheng Fu, Chi-Chien Niu* and Lih-Huei Chen

Author Affiliations

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Spine Section, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital and Chang Gung University, No. 5, Fusing St., Guishan Township, Taoyuan 333, Taiwan

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Infectious Diseases 2014, 14:220  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-14-220

Published: 23 April 2014



Postoperative bacterial meningitis is a rare complication of spinal surgery and is considered to be a complication related to intraoperative incidental durotomy. A high index of suspicion for meningitis is essential in patients who have the clinical triad of fever, neck stiffness and consciousness disturbance during the postoperative period. A delay in diagnosis or treatment can lead to morbidity and mortality. Due to the low incidence of postoperative meningitis, very few studies have reported this complication. The purpose of this study was to report the clinical features, laboratory evaluations, treatment course and prognosis of 21 patients with post spinal surgery meningitis.


We retrospectively reviewed 21 patients (13 male, 8 female) with the diagnosis of postoperative meningitis after lumbar spinal surgery between January 2001 and Aug 2011. The median age of the patients was 67 years old (range 27 to 82 years) at the time of surgery. We recorded the preoperative diagnosis, operative methods, amount of drainage, clinical manifestations, laboratory evaluations, cerebrospinal fluid study, and infectious organisms. All patients diagnosed with postoperative meningitis received at least two weeks of antibiotic treatment. Clinical outcomes were assessed after at least two years of follow-up.


From January 2001 to August 2011, 20,178 spinal operations were performed in our institution, and 21 patients (0.10%) were diagnosed with postoperative meningitis. Eighteen patients (85.7%) had fever, 19 (90.5%) had neck stiffness, and 16 (76.2%) had consciousness disturbance. All patients had at least two of the classic triad. In addition, 9 patients (42.9%) had headache, 3 (14.3%) had focal neurological deficits, and 2 (9.5%) had seizure attacks. There was no mortality in this series. Postoperative meningitis showed no adverse effect on the results of spinal surgery after follow-up for at least two years.


Postoperative meningitis is a rare complication after spinal lumbar surgery. A high index of suspicion for meningitis should be maintained in patients with the clinical triad of fever, neck stiffness, and consciousness disturbance after spinal surgery. Intraoperative incidental durotomy is the most important predictor. An early diagnosis and appropriate antibiotic treatment can lead to a good outcome.

Post spinal surgery; Postoperative meningitis; Complications