Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research®

, Volume 471, Issue 10, pp 3196–3203 | Cite as

Swab Cultures Are Not As Effective As Tissue Cultures for Diagnosis of Periprosthetic Joint Infection

  • Vinay K. Aggarwal
  • Carlos Higuera
  • Gregory Deirmengian
  • Javad ParviziEmail author
  • Matthew S. Austin
Symposium: 2012 Musculoskeletal Infection Society



While it is accepted accurate identification of infecting organisms is crucial in guiding treatment of periprosthetic joint infection (PJI), there remains no consensus regarding the best method for obtaining cultures.


We compared the yield of intraoperative tissue samples versus swab cultures in diagnosing PJI.


Tissue and swab cultures (three each) were collected prospectively during a consecutive series of 156 aseptic and septic revision arthroplasties from October 2011 to April 2012. The tissues and swabs were taken from standardized regions of the joint. After excluding 39 reimplantation procedures, we included 117 cases (74 hip, 43 knee; 30 septic, 87 aseptic) for analysis. We used a modified version of the Musculoskeletal Infection Society criteria for defining PJI, requiring three of five rather than four of six criteria. Tissue and swab cultures from septic and aseptic cases were used to calculate their sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV), and negative predictive value (NPV) for identifying PJI.


Tissue cultures were positive in a higher percentage of septic cases than swab cultures: 28 of 30 (93%) versus 21 of 30 (70%). Tissue cultures were positive in two of 87 aseptic cases (2%), while swab cultures were positive in 10 of 87 (12%). The sensitivity, specificity, PPV, and NPV were 93%, 98%, 93%, and 98%, respectively, for tissue cultures and 70%, 89%, 68%, and 90%, respectively, for swab cultures.


Tissue cultures demonstrated higher sensitivity, specificity, PPV, and NPV for diagnosing PJI than swab cultures. Swab cultures had more false-negative and false-positive results than tissue cultures. Because swab cultures pose a higher risk of not identifying or incorrectly identifying infecting organisms in PJI, we believe their use in obtaining intraoperative culture specimens should be discouraged.

Level of Evidence

Level II, diagnostic study. See Guidelines for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.


Positive Predictive Value Negative Predictive Value Total Joint Arthroplasty Periprosthetic Joint Infection Swab Culture 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors thank Donald Jungkind PhD and the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital surgical and microbiology laboratory staff for cooperation in undertaking and completing the protocol for this study. The authors also thank the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital nursing and surgical staff for cooperating and aiding in specimen collection for this study.


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Copyright information

© The Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons® 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vinay K. Aggarwal
    • 1
  • Carlos Higuera
    • 1
  • Gregory Deirmengian
    • 1
  • Javad Parvizi
    • 1
    Email author
  • Matthew S. Austin
    • 1
  1. 1.Rothman Institute of Orthopedics at Thomas Jefferson HospitalPhiladelphiaUSA

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