PURPOSE:: To investigate the pathogens and biofilms responsible for clinically significant infection of silicone stents implanted within the lacrimal system. METHODS:: Retrospective review of culture results and patient demographics for all silicone lacrimal stents removed early for clinically significant infection and sent to the Bascom Palmer Microbiology Laboratory through the end of year 2010. As a control, routinely removed, clinically noninfected stents from the same institution were prospectively sent for culture over a 6-month period. Four clinically infected and 6 clinically noninfected stents showing mucus within the lumen at removal were sent for scanning electron microscopy. Images were randomized and graded by a microbiologist for the presence of organisms, matrix deposits, organisms within matrix, and overall impression of significant biofilm formation. RESULTS:: Nineteen stents were included in the study; 100% of clinically infected (n = 10) and noninfected (n = 9) stents were culture positive. Culture positivity for nontuberculous mycobacterium was found in 90% of infected stents and none of the noninfected stents (p <0.001). Of infected stents, 50% grew Gram-positive organisms compared with 89% of noninfected stents (p = 0.07). Fifty percent of infected versus 67% of noninfected stents were culture positive for Gram-negative organisms (p = 0.46). Electron microscopy of stents revealed organisms consistent with culture results (size, shape) in planktonic and biofilm form. Masked observer image grading revealed a statistically significant higher amount of organism and biofilm on infected versus noninfected specimen. CONCLUSION:: Nontuberculous mycobacteria comprise the primary pathogens responsible for clinically significant infection of silicone stents in the lacrimal system in South Florida. Robust biofilm production by this organism likely plays a role in pathogenesis. Further research into biofilm-related lacrimal implant infection may aid in the development of useful prevention and treatment strategies.
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