At laparotomy, many surgeons routinely instill crystalloid solutions into the peritoneal cavity, presumably to dilute out necrotic debris, bacteria, and adjuvant substances which foster bacterial growth. We examined the effect on mortality, bacterial growth, clearance, and phagocytosis of various volumes of saline instilled into the peritoneal cavity of rats during Escherichia coli peritonitis. Minimal intraperitoneal bacterial growth was seen after the introduction of a nonlethal inoculum of viable E. coli in 1 ml of saline, while administration of an identical inoculum in 30 ml of saline intraperitoneally (i.p.) led to increased 48-hour mortality (p less than 0.01), and associated rapid bacterial proliferation (p less than 0.01). Clearance of nonviable radiolabelled E. coli from the peritoneal cavity was delayed, bacterial association with host peritoneal leukocytes was decreased, and blood uptake of radiolabelled bacteria was diminished in animals receiving 30 ml of saline i.p., compared to controls which received the identical inoculum in 1 ml of saline i.p. The clinical relevance of these studies is manifold: (1) they provide a possible explanation why patients with ascites due to cirrhosis or the nephrotic syndrome, or those patients undergoing peritoneal dialysis are more susceptible to primary and secondary bacterial peritonitis, possibly on the basis of impaired peritoneal clearance or diminished phagocytosis and, (2) although irrigation of the peritoneal cavity with crystalloid solution would seem prudent during laparotomy, these solutions must be removed prior to closure to prevent interference with normal peritoneal host defense mechanisms.
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