Can joint replacements become infected?

sore kneeOnce you have undergone any kind of joint replacement, it is critical that you take good care of the joint in the weeks and months after the operation.

Getting an infection in the joint site is rare (usually seen in less than 1% of cases in the first three months after surgery) but it not unheard of, so ensure that you are keeping a close eye on your joint through the healing process, and know what to look out for if you suspect that you may have picked up an infection.

Before the operation

Before agreeing to perform the operation, your surgeon will talk to you in detail about any existing skin complaints prior to recommending a joint replacement. This is because unlike normal tissue in the body, a prosthetic joint replacement is unable to defend against infection, therefore is more susceptible to picking up infections, compared with the original joint.

The reason for this increased susceptibility is because the new joint will not have its own blood supply, which is what helps the body fight against infections.

Generally speaking, your surgeon will need to be reassured that any existing skin complaints are under control, or not particularly serious, if they are to undertake joint replacement surgery. This is because they wish to minimise the risk of an infection being passed to the new joint site.

After your operation

In the weeks and months after your operation, it is very important to ensure that you keep the wound site clean and sterile, so that it heals quickly and effectively. If you are concerned that the wound does not appear to be healing, it is red, or warm to the touch, seek medical attention quickly, as you may need a course of antibiotics to treat an infection.

An infection at the surface can be unpleasant, although it is not always serious, whereas if it spreads to the joint site it can be trickier to treat and potentially more serious. The same principle applies to if you pick up an injury or wound to a different area of the body and believe that it has become infected.

The new joint site will be more prone to picking up an infection if germs enter the body, so seek medical attention quickly if you suspect infection, to ensure that anything that could cause you, or your new joint, harm are treated quickly.