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New test for joint infection could spare some patients an unnecessary procedure
Date:3/3/2008

A potential diagnostic test that could help surgeons confirm or rule out the presence of infection-causing bacteria in prosthetic joints that require surgical revision has been developed by researchers at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Such a test could spare a subgroup of people who need the surgery a time-consuming and costly treatment for infection, while helping to ensure that people who need the procedure get it. The test is described in the March issue of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of joint replacement surgeries are performed in this country. And each year, thousands of them must be revised (the prosthetic joint must be removed and replaced) due to severe pain and swelling. These symptoms are often due to infection, says Rocky S. Tuan, Ph.D., chief of NIAMS' Cartilage Biology and Orthopaedics Branch.

The standard treatment for suspected infection is to remove the joint prosthesis and replace it with a spacer that has been impregnated with antibiotics. After about six weeks, patients must undergo another surgery to remove the spacer. Only then can the surgeon implant the new prosthesis.

The problem with this approach is that confirming the presence of infection-causing bacteria is an inexact science. Currently, doctors check for infection by culturing a sample of the joint fluid. A positive culture confirms live bacteria, making spacer surgery a certainty. A negative culture, however, does not necessarily mean there is no infection. In fact, Tuan says that estimates of the false negative rate for joint cultures in revision surgeries range from 27 percent to 50 percent. But because failure to treat an infected joint could lead to severe infection and limb amputation, spacer surgery is sometimes performed for safety's sake even when infection test results are inconclusive.

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Contact: Trish Reynolds
reynoldsp2@mail.nih.gov
301-496-8190
NIH/National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Source:Eurekalert

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