According to the American Academy of Orthpaedic Surgeons, close to 1 million people get a hip, knee or shoulder replacement every year in the U.S. Unfortunately, in around 1 to 2 percent of those cases, the implant gets infected.
The most common cause of infection is a bacteria called Staphylococcus epidermidis. The bacteria enters through the surgical wound, and applies itself to the implant. The bacteria then multiplies, and creates a physical and chemical barrier called biofilm around the implant that resists treatment by antibiotics. This physical and chemical barrier means that the infection must be treated by either cleaning the implant or completely replacing it.
With orthopaedic implant surgeries on the rise, researchers are working on solutions for the increasing risk of implant infections. Some researchers are developing gel particles called hydrogels that repeal infection from implants, while others have developed the idea of microscopic bumps that prevent bacteria from attaching. While these new ideas are several years off from being incorporated into implants, this exciting research promises to decrease the risk of infection, and lower the risk of infection for those undergoing such surgeries.