The objective of this study was to assess bacterial contamination in current practices of pedicle screw handling and comparing it to a novel method of using an intraoperative, sterile implant guard for screws.

Postoperative infections occur at the higher end of 2%–13%, as cited in the literature, and are underestimated due to various reasons in such publications. Despite concerns associated with vancomycin application immediately before closure, it is theoretically impossible to irrigate the screw-bone interface postimplantation. Consequently, any contamination of pedicle screw before implantation is permanent, and has the potential to cause deep-bone infection, or hardware loosening due to encapsulation of biofilm between the bone and the screw. Therefore, continued vigilance and effective preventive measures should be undertaken if available.

Two groups of pre sterile individually-packaged pedicle screws, one encased in a sterile, protective guard (group 1: G) and the other without such a guard (group 2: NG), 31 samples in each group were distributed over 28 spinal fusion surgeries at 5 independent hospitals groups. Each was loaded onto the insertion device by the scrub tech and left on the sterile table. Twenty minutes later, the lead surgeon who had just finished preparing the surgical site, handles the pedicle screw, to check the fit with the insertion device. Then, instead of implantation, it was transferred to a sterile container using fresh sterile gloves for bacterial analysis.

The standard unguarded pedicle screws presented bioburden in the range of 105 to 107 colonies forming units per screw, whereas the guarded pedicle screws showed no bioburden. Standard, current, handling of pedicle screws leads to bacterial contamination, which can be avoided if the screws are sterilely prepackaged with an intraoperative guard (preinstalled).