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Paediatric empyema: worsening disease severity and challenges identifying patients at increased risk of repeat intervention


Objective Empyema is the most common complication of pneumonia. Primary interventions include chest drainage and fibrinolytic therapy (CDF) or video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS). We describe disease trends, clinical outcomes and factors associated with reintervention.

Design/setting/patients Retrospective cohort of paediatric empyema cases requiring drainage or surgical intervention, 2011–2018, admitted to a large Australian tertiary children’s hospital.

Results During the study, the incidence of empyema increased from 1.7/1000 to 7.1/1000 admissions (p<0.001). We describe 192 cases (174 CDF and 18 VATS), median age 3.0 years (IQR 1–5), mean fever duration prior to intervention 6.2 days (SD ±3.3 days) and 50 (26%) cases admitted to PICU. PICU admission increased during the study from 18% to 34% (p<0.001). Bacteraemia occurred in 23/192 (12%) cases. A pathogen was detected in 131/192 (68%); Streptococcus pneumoniae 75/192 (39%), S. aureus 25/192 (13%) and group A streptococcus 13/192 (7%). Reintervention occurred in 49/174 (28%) and 1/18 (6%) following primary CDF and VATS. Comparing repeat intervention with single intervention cases, a continued fever postintervention increased the likelihood for a repeat intervention (OR 1.3 per day febrile; 95% CI 1.2 to 1.4, p<0.0001). Younger age, prolonged fever preintervention and previous antibiotic treatment were not associated with initial treatment failure (all p>0.05).

Conclusion We report increasing incidence and severity of empyema in a large tertiary hospital. One in four patients required a repeat intervention after CDF. Neither clinical variables at presentation nor early investigations were able to predict initial treatment failure.

  • general paediatrics
  • respiratory
  • infectious diseases
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