Pacemakers, Defibrillators Could be Causing Deadly Infections

Pacemakers, Defibrillators Could be Causing Deadly InfectionsMedical devices that were developed to help save lives, such as pacemakers and defibrillators, may actually be the source of deadly infections, a new Duke University study suggests.

According to HealthDay, more than 4.2 million people in the U.S. were implanted with permanent pacemakers or defibrillators between 1993 and 2008. In that period, researchers found that infections due to heart devices surged by 210 percent.

"These infections tend to occur in very vulnerable patients who have other medical conditions that may partially contribute to developing an infection," said Dr. Andrew Wang, a cardiologist at Duke University Hospital and lead study author.

According to the National Library of Medicine, pacemakers and implantable defibrillators are used to treat any form of arrhythmia, which includes any disorder of heart rate or rhythm. The devices monitor the heart's electrical impulses, and if needed, deliver electrical shocks to get a heart beating back in a normal rhythm.

The results of the study were published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Heart device-related infections stem from bacteria, and can become more dangerous as the bacteria spreads to heart valves or other crucial organs. Treatment includes extended treatment with antibiotics, surgery to remove the device and at times reimplantation of the pacemaker or defibrillator. However, repeat implants can be even more risky, and the typical cost of such a procedure is upwards of $146,000.

In the study, researchers examined data from 61 healthcare centers in 28 countries, and found that of the 2,760 people who reported an infection of the heart's lining or heart valves, or endocarditis, an implanted heart device was used in 177 of the patients.

Endocarditis has shown to come with a higher risk of death than other heart-device infections. On the whole, infections were more prominent in older men, and infections reached the heart valve in 66 patients. Other complications from the infection included heart failure and recurrent blood infections.

Dr. Ranjit Suri, director of the Electrophysiology Service and Cardiac Arrhythmia Center at Lenox Hill Hospital, stated that more can be done to decrease such infections.

"We should do everything in our power to prevent these infections starting with using pristine sterile techniques," he said, adding that shortening a patient's stay in the hospital could also bring down the risk of infection.