The aim of this study was to develop a quantitative 16S rRNA assay for determination of bacterial nucleic acid load in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) shunt infection and to compare quantitative 16S rRNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR) findings to those of conventional bacterial culture in patients treated for CSF shunt infection. We developed a quantitative 16S rRNA PCR assay that detected bacterial load across a range of 2.5 × 10(9) down to 2.5 × 10(4) 16S copies/mL CSF under experimental conditions for numerous Gram-positive and Gram-negative organisms. However, when applied to archived CSF samples from 25 shunt infection episodes, correlations between positive bacterial culture and 16S rRNA levels were seen in only half of infections, and 16S rRNA levels dropped precipitously after an initial peak on the first day of sample collection. Bacterial load measured using 16S rRNA PCR does not provide sufficient information beyond bacterial culture to inform CSF shunt infection treatment.
Keywords: Bacterial load; Cerebrospinal; Children; Infection; Shunt.