Objective : To evaluate the implications of a newly defined severity scoring of empyema in children for the prediction of surgical management and to compare the length of hospitalization as an outcome measure of patients treated using medical therapy, salvage video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) vs early elective VATS. Methods : A retrospective chart review of parapneumonic empyema of patients below 18 years of age admitted to a tertiary children's hospital in northern Taiwan from April 1993 to December 2002 was performed. Patients were categorized into a medical group who received antibiotic therapy, needle aspirations with/without tube thoracostomy; a salvage VATS group when the patients required surgery for the relief of persistent fever > 38°C, chest pains or dyspneic respirations despite initial medical therapy; an early VATS group when the patients received elective surgery early after admission. The demographic data, clinical features, laboratory findings, and duration of hospitalization were compared using a severity score of empyema (SSE). Results : Streptococcus pneumoniae was the most common infecting organism, followed by Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. No organisms were recovered in 39% of patients. A pleural pH < 7.1 increases the odds of requiring surgical intervention by 6 times among this cohort. Children who required decortication of empyema had a higher severity score (mean 4.8 vs 3.0, p < 0.005). The duration of hospitalization for patients having early VATS showed a shortening stay (mean 18 vs 28 days) as compared to salvage VATS. Conclusion : A pleural pH < 7.1 and a newly designed clinical severity score of empyema ≥ 4 are two predictors of surgical intervention for fibrinopurulent empyema in the present study. Early elective VATS may be adopted not later than 7 days after failure of appropriate antibiotic therapy and adequate drainage of empyema to decrease the length of stay and minimize morbidity.
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