Hair Plugs Cause Rare Infection
August 28, 2001 - New York,
When Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch saw the 44-year-old man, he was ``about as sick as possible.'' The cause? A hair plug gone awry.
``It's very rare, but...this poor guy had a hair transplant done in a dermatologist's office in New Jersey and gets a lot of bleeding,'' recalls Hirsch, an internist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York. ``He had septic shock, which went to his lungs and made holes there.''
As more and more men turn to hair plugs as a surgical antidote to baldness, doctors warn that the relatively safe procedure does involve a small, but potentially lethal, risk.
Hirsch and his colleagues from the departments of medicine and surgery describe the diagnosis and treatment of the patient in the current issue of Infectious Diseases in Clinical Practice.
The patient, otherwise in good health, had been given steroids for swelling that began after his first in a series of treatments. After the second transplant, he experienced a lot of bleeding at the plug site, at which time the affected scalp area was cleaned and stitched up with heavy woven silk. Within a week, the patient developed a high fever and breathing difficulties, as well as joint, muscle, and chest pain.
A day later, he sought care in an emergency room, where Hirsch's team diagnosed him with an unusual and life-threatening infection with the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. The doctors removed the stitching, cleaned the wound area, and treated the patient with more than five weeks of antibiotics.
With such infectious complications occurring in less than 0.1% of hair transplant procedures, the researchers described this patient's experience as a ``rare but possible'' risk for those electing to have what is currently the most common cosmetic surgery for men in the US.
``Doctors should be careful in their use of steroids to control swelling in these procedures,'' Hirsch told Reuters Health. ``Steroids can decrease the body's ability to fight infection. In this case, the doctor did not control the bleeding properly, which can be very difficult to do.''
Hirsch added that those engaging in medically unnecessary cosmetic procedures of this sort should carefully consider all the health risks beforehand--no matter how small or unlikely. ''The lesson for everybody is that any procedure can have some risk,'' he cautioned. ``This guy almost died because of having a hair transplant...and he lived and recovered completely, and didn't even lose the transplant.''
But the patient is wary of more surgery.
``Last I spoke with him, he was not planning on having any more,'' Hirsch said.