Background: Video-assisted thoracoscopic debridement has been shown to be a safe and efficient procedure for empyema in the adult patient. Its place in the management of childhood empyema remains controversial.
Methods: Over an 18-month period, 9 children were operated upon for pleural empyema. All children were initially treated with appropriate antibiotics and chest-tube drainage. Indication for surgery were persistent clinical symptoms and loculation of pleural fluid 5 to 7 days following initial treatment. In case of a duration of the illness of less than 14 days, an initial attempt was made to debride the pleural space by thoracoscopy.
Results: Mean duration of the illness prior to surgery was 15 days (range: 10-23 days), and mean duration of preoperative conservative treatment 10 days (range: 5-20 days). In five of the nine patients thoracoscopy was performed. In all patients thoracoscopy failed to provide adequate clearance of the diseased pleural space because of the advanced stage of the disease. The procedure was converted to a formal thoracotomy in four patients, the fifth patient continued to deteriorate and required formal thoracotomy and decortication seven days later.
Conclusion: This limited experience suggests that, with the current management and indications, video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery adds little benefit to the treatment of childhood empyema.