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The unsuspected prosthetic joint infection

incidence and consequences of positive intra-operative cultures in presumed aseptic knee and hip revisions

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Positive cultures are not uncommon in cases of revision total knee and hip arthroplasty (TKA and THA) for presumed aseptic causes. The purpose of this study was to assess the incidence of positive intra-operative cultures in presumed aseptic revision of TKA and THA, and to determine whether the presence of intra-operative positive cultures results in inferior survival in such cases.

Patients and Methods

A retrospective cohort study was assembled with 679 patients undergoing revision knee (340 cases) or hip arthroplasty (339 cases) for presumed aseptic causes. For all patients three or more separate intra-operative cultures were obtained. Patients were diagnosed with a previously unsuspected prosthetic joint infection (PJI) if two or more cultures were positive with the same organism. Records were reviewed for demographic details, pre-operative laboratory results and culture results. The primary outcome measure was infection-free implant survival at two years.


The incidence of unsuspected PJI was 27 out of 340 (7.9%) in TKA and 41 out of 339 (12.1%) in THA. Following revision TKA, the rate of infection-free implant survival in patients with an unsuspected PJI was 88% (95% confidence intervals (CI) 60 to 97) at two years compared with 98% (95% CI 94 to 99) in patients without PJI (p = 0.001). After THA, the rate of survival was similar in those with unsuspected PJI (92% (95% CI 73 to 98) at two years) and those without (94% (95% CI 89 to 97), p = 0.31).


Following revision of TKA and THA for aseptic diagnoses, around 10% of cases were found to have positive cultures. In the knee, such cases had inferior infection-free survival at two years compared with those with negative cultures; there was no difference between the groups following THA.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2017;99-B:1482–9.

Correspondence should be sent to A. M.E. Jacobs; email:

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