The word “infection” contains 9 letters, but it’s a four-letter word for orthopaedic surgeons. Postoperative infections are complications that we all deal with, but we try hard to avoid them. Infections after elective sports surgeries can have especially devastating long-term consequences. Thankfully, scientific advances such as improved sterile techniques and more powerful prophylactic antibiotics have helped us decrease the rates of perioperative infections. But more can always be done in this arena.
Baron et al. discuss one additional infection-fighting approach in the December 18, 2019 issue of JBJS, where they report on findings from a retrospective cohort study that looked at 90-day infection rates after >1,600 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstructions. Specifically, they investigated whether the rates of infection differed when the ACL grafts were prepared with or without a vancomycin irrigant. The average patient age was 27 years old, and all the surgeries (84.1% of which were primary reconstructions) were performed by 1 of 6 fellowship-trained surgeons. The graft was soaked in vancomycin solution in 798 cases (48.7%), while the remaining 51.3% did not use vancomycin.
Baron et al. found that 11 of the reconstructions were complicated by infection within 90 days, but only 1 of those 11 infections occurred in the vancomycin group (p=0.032). After controlling for various confounding factors, the authors found that increased body mass index and increased operative time were also significantly associated with postoperative infection, while age, sex, smoking, surgeon, and insurance type were not.
These results reveal an 89.4% relative risk reduction in postoperative infections after ACL reconstructions when grafts are bathed in vancomycin solution, although the absolute rate of infection among non-soaked grafts (1.2%) was still quite low. Time and more rigorous study designs will tell us whether this is a big step forward in the evolution of infection prevention, but these results should at least prompt further investigation.
Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media