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Cerebrospinal fluid shunt infections in children
  1. Emily Konrad,
  2. Joan L Robinson,
  3. Michael T Hawkes
  1. Pediatrics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Michael T Hawkes, Pediatrics, University of Alberta, Edmonton, T6G 1C9, Canada; mthawkes{at}


Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) shunts are commonly used for the long-term management of hydrocephalus in children. Shunt infection remains a common complication, occurring in about 5%–15% of CSF shunts. This narrative review summarises key evidence from recent literature on the epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical presentation, diagnosis, management, outcomes and prevention of CSF shunt infections in children. The majority of shunt infections occur due to contamination at the time of surgery, with coagulase-negative staphylococci and Staphylococcus aureus being the most common infecting organisms. Clinical presentations of shunt infection can be varied and difficult to recognise. CSF cultures are the primary test used for diagnosis. Other CSF and blood parameters may aid in diagnosis but lack sensitivity and specificity. Core aspects of management of shunt infections include systemic antimicrobial therapy and surgical removal of the shunt. However, many specific treatment recommendations are limited by a lack of robust evidence from large studies or controlled trials. Shunt infections may result in long hospital stays, worsening hydrocephalus, neurological sequelae and other complications, as well as death. Therefore, reducing the incidence of infection and optimising management are high priorities. Antibiotic prophylaxis at the time of shunt placement, improved surgical protocols and antibiotic-impregnated shunts are key strategies to prevent shunt infections. Nevertheless, further work is needed to identify additional strategies to prevent complications and improve outcomes.

  • infectious disease medicine
  • neurosurgery

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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  • Contributors EK performed the literature review, wrote the manuscript and approved the final version. JLR edited the manuscript and approved the final version. MH supervised the literature review, edited the manuscript and approved the final version.

  • Funding MTH is supported through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute at the University of Alberta (Distinguished Researcher Program, Stollery Science Lab).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.