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Arch Orthop Trauma Surg. 2008 Oct;128(10):1039-46. Epub 2007 Sep 15.

Propionibacterium spp. in prosthetic joint infections: a diagnostic challenge.

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Clinic of Orthopaedic Surgery, Kantonsspital, Liestal, Switzerland.



Propionibacterium species are common inhabitants of the skin and usually non-pathogenic for humans. However, Propionibacterium spp. can occasionally cause infections, but are estimated to play a minor role in prosthetic joint infections (PJI). The relative frequency of these anaerobes and their potential to cause surgical site infection may be clinically underestimated. An unknown proportion of these infections might be missed, since little is known about their clinical presentation, and since growth of Propionibacterium spp. in diagnostic samples is often interpreted as contamination. Thus, a hypothesis is being tested, stating that Propionibacterium spp. is not as rare as often reported, and it can cause severe soft-tissue damages in PJI.


In this retrospective analysis, we reviewed all PJI that had been treated in our institution from 2000 to 2005, and assessed the relative frequency of those caused by Propionibacterium spp. In the identified cases, features that led to the diagnosis (clinical, laboratory, radiological, microbiological and histopathological characteristics) were analysed.


Of 139 cases of prosthetic joint infections, 8(6%) were caused by Propionibacterium spp. Seven patients complained of pain as the main symptom, and four had damaged soft-tissue. Analysis of the diagnostic procedures showed a median of 39% positive samples out of all cultured biopsies (median 9.5 biopsies per case), with a median time-to-positivity of 8 days. Results of histopathological examinations of the periprosthetic tissue correlated well with the clinical courses.


Our data suggest that Propionibacterium associated prosthetic joint infections occur at a relative frequency that is comparable to many other pathogens. Clinical signs are generally subtle, but the spectrum includes also significant soft-tissue damages. In this study, a median of 9.5 biopsies per case, an incubation time of 14 days, and the aid of histopathological examinations proved to be helpful in establishing the diagnosis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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