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Background: To determine whether local complications at the site of pacemaker implantation indicate infection of the intravascular part of the lead as well as of the pacemaker pocket.
Methods: 105 patients admitted for local inflammatory findings, impending pacemaker or lead exteriorisation, frank pacemaker or lead exteriorisation, or overt infection were studied prospectively. After systematic lead extraction, the initial clinical presentation was related to the results of lead cultures.
Results: Regardless of the initial presentation, the intravascular parts of the leads gave positive cultures in 79.3% of patients. Additionally, 91.6% of the cultures of the extravascular lead segments were positive, in contrast to 38.1% positivity for wound swab cultures. No clinical observations or laboratory investigations permitted identification of patients with negative lead cultures. In a subgroup of 50 patients with manifestations strictly limited to the pacemaker implantation site, cultures of intravascular lead segments were positive in 72%. Infection recurred in 4/8 patients without complete lead body extraction (50%) v 1/97 patients (1.0%) whose leads were totally extracted (p < 0.001).
Conclusions: Local complications at the site of pacemaker implantation are usually associated with infection of the intravascular part of the leads, with a risk of progressing to systemic infection. Such local symptoms should prompt the extraction of leads even in the absence of other infectious manifestations.