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J Clin Pathol. 2001 March; 54(3): 214–218.
PMCID: PMC1731383

Overwhelming infection in asplenic patients: current best practice preventive measures are not being followed


Aims—Patients without spleens are at increased risk of overwhelming infection. Recently, greater efforts, including the publication of national guidelines, have been made to improve the management of asplenic individuals. In theory, risks of serious sepsis can be reduced by good advice, immunisation, and antibiotic prophylaxis. In practice, such preventive measures might not be followed or may fail. A study of recent cases of overwhelming postsplenectomy infection (OPSI) was undertaken to examine specific associated factors and to determine whether currently recommended preventive measures are being followed.

Methods—Cases of OPSI were identified and reported mainly by microbiologists across the country using a specifically designed proforma. Data including the nature of the infection and vaccination/antibiotic prophylaxis history since splenectomy were obtained.

Results—Seventy seven cases were reported. The age range varied from 3 months (congenital asplenia) to 87 years. In those who had undergone surgical splenectomy, the time interval between surgery and OPSI varied from 24 days to 65 years. Overall mortality reached 50%, with underlying haematological malignancy associated with the highest death rate. Streptococcus pneumoniae caused approximately 90% episodes. Only 31% individuals had received pneumococcal vaccination before OPSI. Seven of 17 pneumococcal infections in immunised cases could be considered vaccine failures. Few patients had been adequately advised on antibiotic prophylaxis or other measures.

Conclusions—Currently accepted best practice for managing asplenic patients is not being followed. Some OPSI cases may still be preventable but many asplenic individuals remain unrecognised. The compilation of asplenic patient registers might help to implement agreed policies with audit necessary to evaluate compliance. More is needed to ensure optimal management for this cohort of the population.

Key Words: splenectomy • immunisation • overwhelming postsplenectomy infection • asplenic patient register

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Figure 1 Time interval between splenectomy and sepsis in 72 cases of overwhelming postsplenectomy infection (OPSI).

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