Among the millions of people who have surgery each year, up to 3% will end up with infections around their stitches -- but that risk may soon decline.
Last month the Food and Drug Administration approved the first suture coated with an antibacterial drug.
The drug, Triclosan, fights such germs as Staphylococcus aureus and Staphylococcus epidermis, as well as antibiotic-resistant strains of Staphylococcus, which are responsible for many of the hospital-acquired infections that patients develop each year. Many of these germs can live harmlessly on the patient's skin, but when they catch a ride into the body through the stitches holding together a surgical wound, they can wreak havoc.
About 675,000 Americans develop surgical site infections each year, with the majority occurring in the area directly surrounding the stitches. Once the bacteria get into the surgical site, they begin rapidly multiplying, sometimes invading deeper tissues and entering the bloodstream. The infections, which can prolong hospital stays and boost medical expenses, cause pain and scarring, as well as tissue destruction and other complications.
The Vicryl Plus Antibacterial Suture doesn't kill the bacteria. Instead, it creates an unfriendly environment so that they won't multiply and form colonies on the stitches for at least 48 hours, when most surgical site infections take hold. The suture is absorbable.
The product is made by Ethicon Inc. of Somerville, N.J., a Johnson & Johnson company.