Like with any type of surgery, getting breast implants comes with a risk of infection. But as a new case study highlights, you can wind up with an infected breast implant long after you’ve gone under the knife.
Five months after having a breast augmentation, a 34-year-old woman went on vacation in Cancun, Mexico, where she contracted a case of “traveler’s diarrhea,” according to the report published in December 2018 in the surgical journal JPRAS Open.
The food poisoning-like illness usually isn’t serious, according to the Mayo Clinic, and as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, it’s caused by ingesting common bacteria, including salmonella.
What does Salmonella have to do with breast implants?
So, what does a case of food poisoning have to do with breast implants? Actually, a lot. After developing cramps, diarrhea and a fever (all common symptoms of TD), the woman went to see a doctor back in the States, but her symptoms soon went away on their own. All pretty normal.
But two weeks later, something concerning happened — she started experiencing pain and swelling in her right breast, and an ultrasound revealed fluid surrounding her breast implant. When doctors drained the fluid and removed her implant, they found that her implant had been infected with salmonella — the same bacteria that had caused her intestinal distress.
“This is a scary case. The good news, right off the bat, is that situations like this are extremely rare,” Darren Smith, a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City, told Allure.
How exactly does this happen?
Here’s how it can happen: “When the body has a bacterial infection like salmonella, and the bacteria gets into the bloodstream, it is possible for the bacteria to travel to an implant in the body — like a breast implant,” Smith explains. Since a breast implant doesn’t have the same kind of infection-fighting defenses as live tissues do, infected implants typically have to be removed entirely to prevent the infection from spreading.
It’s not just salmonella that can go from being a relatively common gut infection to a serious implant infection. Theoretically, any infection can lodge itself in the breast cavity after surgery, Smith says.
“It is for this reason that we generally recommend implant-based procedures be performed as far apart from other procedures that are at a high risk for seeding the blood stream with bacteria as possible,” he says.
Here’s how to prevent similar instances
Some procedures carry a higher risk of infection than others. “New breast implants at the same time as a rhinoplasty, for example, would pose a big risk for infection,” Smith says.
This is because the nose is one of the more bacteria-ridden places in the body, which means there’s a good chance a “significant amount of bacteria will end up in the bloodstream after the procedure,” he says. “If I were performing a rhinoplasty in someone who had implants already, I would likely prescribe antibiotics to avoid a problem.”
Same goes with dental work. “I advise all my patients to schedule breast augmentations far away from any dental work because, like the nose, the mouth is a very dirty place, and it is common to seed the blood stream with bacteria during dental procedures,” Smith says.
That being said, although this case is rare, it does bring up an important precaution to take if you have implants and come down with a bug. Namely, take your symptoms seriously. “A stomach bug that you may not necessarily go to the doctor for, for example, may be worth the trip if you have breast implants,” Smith says.