Background: With proper technique and instrumentation, laser resurfacing for facial wrinkles has been found to be highly effective and relatively safe. Most, if not all, of the noninfectious complications such as pigmentary changes, scarring, and persistent erythema can either be avoided or managed with appropriate therapy. Postoperative infections, on the other hand, may develop despite proper technique and instrumentation. Without proper management, they may cause significant physical morbidity and psychological distress defying the expected benefit of the procedure.
Objective: To quantify the incidence and to study the characteristics of infections arising after laser resurfacing for facial wrinkles with pulsed carbon dioxide laser treatment.
Method: A retrospective study was carried out by reviewing the records of all patients undergoing laser resurfacing for facial wrinkles from January 1, 1995 to April 30, 1996. An infection is defined as a positive culture in the presence of signs or symptoms of an infection.
Results: Over 16 months, 395 procedures were performed and 17 cases of culture-proven infection recorded, an incidence of 4.3%. All patients had symptoms starting between days 2 and 10 after the operation. Over half of the patients had multiple infections with two to three microorganisms. Pseudomonas aeruginosa was the most common causative agent, found in 41% of all infected cases, followed by Staphylococcus aureus (35%), S. epidermidis (35%), and Candida species (24%). Multiple drug-resistant, gram-negative bacteria were found in four cases, implicating the possibility of hospital-acquired infections. Almost all isolates of gram-positive bacteria were resistant to both erythromycin and penicillin, but not oxacillin. With proper treatment, most patients healed normally. Only one patient had persistent, multiple atrophic scars due to locally disseminated herpes simplex infection despite proper prophylaxis and treatment.
Conclusions: Postoperative infection is uncommon and manageable with early recognition and proper treatment. The types of infectious agents being found are very similar to those reported in burn patients. This complication has been found to be much more common in patients undergoing full face resurfacing and those using a bio-occlusive dressing postoperatively. With comprehensive preventive and management measures, it is likely that this type of uncommon, yet distressful, complication can be avoided and more successfully treated. Recommendations are made for prevention and management of suspected postoperative infections.