Implants Can Hide Staphylococcus Infections

Health Professional

Some people are walking around with some serious body hardware. Not the armor type, I am talking about the implants: the hips, the knees, the teeth, the stimulators, the pumps and every type of screw you can think of. None of these objects are naturally found in the human body; thus, they are "foreign" objects when implanted. Sometimes the immune system will attack a foreign intruder like a splinter or piece of glass. But sometimes the immune system is helpless especially when the bugs move in and create an "Implant-centered Infection."

When certain types of bacteria infect an implant, they find tiny pores in the material. Once inside their caves, they start making a protective "biofilm" that creates a wall against attack by the immune system and prevents penetration by antibiotics. This resistant defense mechanism is why implant infections can go undetected for years and once detected can be very difficult to treat. With so much at stake, much effort is underway to try to prevent these infections from occurring. A lot has to do with the type of material and surface characteristics of the implant. And more has to do with the health of the host (person with the implant) and the nature of the bug. Staphylococcus bacteria, particularly S. aureas, are the most common offenders that hide in the implants.

With the worst case scenario, treating an infected implant is not an easy road of just taking a pill. Many implant infections require long-term systemic antibiotics, surgical debridement, and implant removal. Loss of income, hospitalization, and surgery all add up to a very hefty price tag-the cost of an infected implant. Not to mention that sometimes these infections can spread throughout the body as the seeds from the bacteria spread via the circulatory system to the heart, the kidneys, and other areas of the body. An undetected implant infection can eventually kill the host.

How can you detect a potential implant infection? Look for these signs of infection:

  • Periodic fevers, chills, and sweats
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Malaise, fatigue and vague sense of poor health
  • Increased pain, swelling, redness
  • New heart murmur
  • Loosening of hardware
  • Skin lesions

If you are concerned that you might have an infection, please talk to your doctor. Even years after an implant surgery, an implant-centered infection can rear its ugly head. It will take imaging, blood cultures and blood tests to find this hidden dragon. As new implant technology becomes available, the bacteria will have less chance of hiding.  Just beware that hardware implanted in the body offers opportunities for trouble.