Aim: To undertake a systematic review of the diagnostic performance of clinical examination, sample acquisition and sample analysis in infected foot ulcers in diabetes.
Methods: Nineteen electronic databases plus other sources were searched. To be included, studies had to fulfil the following criteria: (i) compare a method of clinical assessment, sample collection or sample analysis with a reference standard; (ii) recruit diabetic individuals with foot ulcers; (ii) present 2 x 2 diagnostic data. Studies were critically appraised using a 12-item checklist.
Results: Three eligible studies were identified, one each on clinical examination, sample collection and sample analysis. For all three, study groups were heterogeneous with respect to wound type and a small proportion of participants had foot ulcers due to diabetes. No studies identified an optimum reference standard. Other methodological problems included non-blind interpretation of tests and the time lag between index and reference tests. Individual signs or symptoms of infection did not prove to be useful tests when assessed against punch biopsy as the reference standard. The wound swab did not perform well when assessed against tissue biopsy. Semiquantitative analysis of wound swab might be a useful alternative to quantitative analysis. The limitations of these findings and their impact on recommendations from relevant clinical guidelines are discussed.
Conclusion: Given the importance of this topic, it is surprising that only three eligible studies were identified. It was not possible to describe the optimal methods of diagnosing infection in diabetic patients with foot ulceration from the evidence identified in this systematic review.