Microbiology and antimicrobial treatment of pediatric cervical lymphadenitis requiring surgical intervention

Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2013 May;77(5):817-20. doi: 10.1016/j.ijporl.2013.02.018. Epub 2013 Mar 24.


Background: Acute cervical lymphadenitis is a common condition often times requiring antibiotic therapy and possible surgical drainage. The objective of this study was to describe the clinical characteristics, diagnostic and therapeutic management of children requiring surgical drainage for acute cervical lymphadenitis.

Methods: A retrospective, descriptive study was performed at a Midwestern US tertiary-care children's hospital on all immunocompetent children who underwent an incision and drainage procedure of cervical lymphadenitis from January 1999 to July 2009.

Results: A total of 277 patients were identified. Males represented 51% and the median age was 28 months (IQR: 13-59). Lymphadenitis was unilateral in 243 (87.7%) cases and bilateral in 19 (6.9%). Median length of hospital stay was 4 days (IQR: 3-5). Aerobic, anaerobic, acid fast bacillus (AFB), and fungal cultures were obtained intraoperatively in 99%, 98%, 82%, and 78% of cases, respectively. However no fungal cultures were positive and only 1% of anaerobic and 2% of AFB cultures were positive. The most common bacterial etiology was Staphylococcus aureus (35.7%) and Streptococcus pyogenes (18.8%). Of all cultures, 32% were negative. Overall, 22% were positive for methicillin susceptible S. aureus (MSSA) and 13.7% for methicillin resistant S. aureus (MRSA), with 96% MSSA and 100% MRSA susceptible to clindamycin. Median duration of discharge antibiotics prescribed was 10 days (IQR: 7-11). Only 12 (4.5%) patients required a repeat incision and drainage within 3 months.

Conclusions: A single antibiotic that treats S. pyogenes and S. aureus should be the empiric antibiotic for cervical lymphadenitis requiring incision and drain. We recommend sending only aerobic cultures intraoperatively as a routine practice as other pathogens are rare.

MeSH terms

  • Abscess / drug therapy
  • Abscess / microbiology*
  • Abscess / surgery
  • Anti-Infective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drainage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data*
  • Lymphadenitis / drug therapy*
  • Lymphadenitis / microbiology
  • Lymphadenitis / surgery
  • Male
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Neck
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Anti-Infective Agents