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Old Tech Helps Soldiers With New Wound Infection

Antibiotic-laced bone cement cuts complications that could cost them a limb

THURSDAY, Jan. 29 (HealthDay News) -- A combination of bone cement and antibiotics may help fight dangerous infections that can develop in compound (open) fractures suffered by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a study conducted by a team of orthopedic, military and pharmaceutical researchers.

A bacteria called Acinetobacter baumannii is common in the Middle East and present in more than 30 percent of soldiers recovering from open fractures in field hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan. This kind of infection can lead to amputation, according to background information in the study.

It's believed that A. baumannii may "prime" an open fracture site and make it more vulnerable to potentially deadly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

"If you apply the findings from two small studies to the entire U.S. military, which is a leap, perhaps 2,000 soldiers come into field hospitals with compound fractures each year that become infected with A. baumannii," study author Edward Schwarz, a professor or orthopedics at the Center for Musculoskeletal Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in a university news release. "About a third of them go on to get a staph infection after they reach the hospital, with about a third of those, perhaps 200 soldiers, suffering infectious complications that could cost them a limb."

In this study, Schwarz and colleagues used bone cement infused with an antibiotic called colistin -- one of the last-resort antibiotics for drug-resistant A. baumannii -- to treat mice infected with samples of the bacteria taken from soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. After 19 days, only 29.2 percent of the mice still had detectable levels of A. baumannii.

The study was published Jan. 27 in the Journal of Orthopedic Research.

The findings make a case for a human clinical trial to test the effectiveness of colistin-laced bone cement, the researchers said.

More information

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about fractures.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Journal of Orthopedic Research, news release, Jan. 27, 2009

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