Background: Epidural catheters are frequently colonized by gram-positive bacteria. Although the incidence of associated epidural infections is low, their consequences can be devastating. We investigated bacterial growth on epidural catheters by quantitative bacterial culture and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) in order to explore the patterns of epidural catheter colonization. Methods: 28 patients undergoing major abdominal surgery with thoracic epidurals (treatment ≥72 hours) were studied. Before the removal of the catheter, the skin surrounding the insertion site was swabbed. The entire catheter was divided into extracorporeal, subcutaneous, and tip segments. Skin swabs and catheter segments were quantitatively cultured, bacterial species were identified, and SEM was performed on four selected catheters. Results: 27 of 28 catheters were included. The percentages of positive cultures were: skin swab 29.6%, extracorporeal segments 11.1%, subcutaneous segments 14.8%, and tip segments 33.3%. One patient was diagnosed with a catheter-associated infection. Staphylococcus epidermidis was cultured from the skin and the catheter extracorporeal, subcutaneous, and tip segments. SEM of this catheter showed bacteria-like and intraluminal host cell-like structures. SEM of two other catheters showed intraluminal fibrin networks in their tip segments. Conclusions: We present the first SEM pictures of an epidural catheter with a bacterial infection. Bacterial growth developed from the skin to the tip of this catheter, indicating the skin as a primary source of infection. By SEM, catheters with low levels of bacterial growth demonstrated an intraluminal fibrous network which possibly plays a role in catheter obstruction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)381-385
Number of pages5
JournalRegional anesthesia and pain medicine
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020


  • neuraxial blocks: continuous techniques
  • neuraxial blocks: epidural
  • regional anesthesia

Cite this