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Origin of Propionibacterium in Surgical Wounds and Evidence-Based Approach for Culturing Propionibacterium from Surgical Sites
Frederick A. Matsen, III, MD1; Susan Butler-Wu, PhD2; Bradley C. Carofino, MD3; Jocelyn L. Jette, BS1; Alexander Bertelsen, PAC1; Roger Bumgarner, PhD4
1 Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, University of Washington Medical Center, Box 356500, 1959 N.E. Pacific Street, Seattle, WA 98195. E-mail address for F.A. Matsen III: matsen@u.washington.edu
2 Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of Washington Medical Center, Box 357110, 1959 N.E. Pacific Street, NW120, Seattle, WA 98195
3 23377 Herons Gate, Virginia Beach, VA 23452
4 Department of Microbiology, University of Washington, Box 357735, 1959 N.E. Pacific Street, Seattle, WA 98195-7735
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Investigation performed at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington

Disclosure: One or more of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of an aspect of this work. In addition, one or more of the authors, or his or her institution, has had a financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with an entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. No author has had any other relationships, or has engaged in any other activities, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.

Copyright © 2013 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc.
J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2013 Dec 04;95(23):e181 1-7. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.L.01733
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To explore the origin of Propionibacterium in surgical wounds and to suggest an optimized strategy for culturing this organism at the time of revision surgery, we studied the presence of this organism on the skin and in the surgical wounds of patients who underwent revision arthroplasty for reasons other than apparent infection.


Specimens were cultured in broth and on aerobic and anaerobic media. The presence and degree of positivity of Propionibacterium cultures were correlated with sex. The results of dermal and deep cultures were correlated. Times to positivity and the yields of each media type and specimen source were investigated.


Propionibacterium grew in twenty-three of thirty cultures of specimens obtained preoperatively from the unprepared epidermis over the area where a skin incision was going to be made for a shoulder arthroplasty; males had a greater average degree of positivity than females (p < 0.002). Twelve of twenty-one male subjects and zero of twenty female subjects who had cultures of dermal specimens obtained during revision shoulder arthroplasty had positive findings for Propionibacterium (p = 0.0001). Twelve of twenty male subjects and only one of twenty female subjects had positive deep cultures (p = 0.0004). The positivity of dermal cultures for Propionibacterium was significantly associated with the positivity of deep cultures for this organism (p = 0.0001). If Propionibacterium was present in deep tissues, it was likely that it would be recovered by culture if four different specimens were obtained and cultured for a minimum of seventeen days on three different media: aerobic, anaerobic, and broth.


Because the surgical incision of dermal sebaceous glands may be a source of Propionibacterium in deep wounds, strategies for minimizing the risk of Propionibacterium infections may need to be directed at minimizing the contamination of surgical wounds from these bacteria residing in rather than on the skin. Obtaining at least four specimens, observing them for seventeen days, and using three types of culture media optimize the recovery of Propionibacterium at the time of revision surgery.

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    Accreditation Statement
    These activities have been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
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