Infection after total knee arthroplasty. A retrospective study of the treatment of eighty-one infections

H Segawa, D T Tsukayama, R F Kyle, D A Becker, R B Gustilo
Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. American Volume 1999, 81 (10): 1434-45

BACKGROUND: The clinical presentation of an infection at the site of a total knee arthroplasty can be used as a guide to treatment, including the decision as to whether the prosthesis should be retained or removed. We reviewed the results of treatment of infection after total knee arthroplasty to evaluate the effectiveness of four treatment protocols based on the clinical setting of the infection.

METHODS: We retrospectively evaluated the results of treatment of eighty-one infections in seventy-six consecutive patients who either had an infection after a total knee arthroplasty or had multiple positive intraoperative cultures of specimens of periprosthetic tissue obtained during a revision total knee arthroplasty performed because of presumed aseptic loosening. The patients were managed according to one of four protocols. Five infections in five patients who had positive intraoperative cultures were treated with antibiotic therapy alone. Twenty-three early postoperative infections in twenty-one patients were treated with débridement, antibiotic therapy, and retention of the prosthesis. Twenty-nine late chronic infections in twenty-eight patients were treated with a delayed-exchange arthroplasty after a course of antibiotics. Seven acute hematogenous infections in six patients were treated with débridement, antibiotic therapy, and retention of the prosthesis. Seventeen infections in seventeen patients were not treated according to one of the four protocols. Sixteen late chronic infections were treated either with an arthrodesis (five infections) or with débridement, antibiotic therapy, and retention of the prosthesis (eleven infections). One acute hematogenous infection was treated with resection arthroplasty because of life-threatening sepsis.

RESULTS: The mean duration of follow-up was 4.0 years (range, 0.3 to 14.0 years). Eleven patients who had an arthrodesis, a resection arthroplasty, or an above-the-knee amputation after less than two years of follow-up were included in the study as individuals who had a failure of treatment. In the group of patients who were managed according to protocol, the initial course of treatment was successful for all five infections that were diagnosed on the basis of positive intraoperative cultures, five of the ten deep early infections, all thirteen superficial early infections, twenty-four of the twenty-nine late chronic infections, and five of the seven acute hematogenous infections. Only one of eleven prostheses in patients who had a late chronic infection that was not treated according to protocol was successfully retained after débridement.

CONCLUSIONS: Our treatment protocols, which were based on the clinical setting of the infection, were successful for most patients. A major factor associated with treatment failure was a compromised immune status. Bone loss and necrosis of the soft tissues around the joint also complicated the treatment of these infections.

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