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Mycobacterium chelonae wound infections after plastic surgery employing contaminated gentian violet skin-marking solution


From April 1 to October 31, 1985, postoperative surgical-wound infections due to rapidly growing mycobacteria developed in eight patients undergoing cosmetic plastic surgery performed by one surgeon. All infections followed either face-lift or augmentation-mammoplasty procedures performed in the surgeon’s office; no infections occurred after surgical procedures performed at the hospital or after other surgical procedures performed at the office. An epidemiologic investigation implicated a gentian violet skin-marking solution as the source of the infections (P less than 0.001). Among patients exposed to the gentian violet, infection was significantly more likely to develop in those undergoing a face lift or augmentation mammoplasty than in those undergoing blepharoplasty (P less than 0.001). Additional risk factors for infection included the postoperative use of antibiotics and glucocorticoids. Mycobacterium chelonae, subspecies abscessus, was isolated from the gentian violet stock used by the surgeon and from five of the eight patients. Additional studies showed that the same organism was present in the gentian violet stock at the pharmacy that supplied the agent to the surgeon. After a sterile skin-marking agent was substituted for the contaminated agent, no further cases occurred.

Safranek TJ, Jarvis WR, Carson LA, Cusick LB, Bland LA, Swenson JM, Silcox VA

N. Engl. J. Med. 1987 Jul;317(4):197-201

PMID: 3600710