Vagal nerve stimulator infection: a lead-salvage protocol

Clinical article

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Vagal nerve stimulator (VNS) hardware infections are fraught with difficult management decisions. As with most implanted medical device–related infections, standard practice traditionally involves complete hardware removal, systemic antibiotic therapy, and subsequent reimplantation of the device. To avoid the potential morbidity of 2 repeat left carotid sheath surgical dissections, the authors have implemented a clinical protocol for managing VNS infections that involves generator removal and antibiotic therapy without lead removal.


A prospective, single-surgeon database was compared with hospital billing records to identify patients who underwent primary implantation or reimplantation of a VNS lead, generator, or both, from January 2001 to May 2010, at Oregon Health & Science University. From these records, the authors identified patients with VNS hardware infections and characterized their management, using a lead salvage protocol.


In their review, the authors found a matching cohort of 206 children (age 3 months–17 years) who met the inclusion criteria. These children underwent 258 operations (including, in some children, multiple operations for generator end of life and/or lead malfunction). Six children experienced a single postimplantation infection (2.3% of the 258 operative cases), and no child experienced repeated infection. A lead-salvage protocol was used in 4 of 6 infected patients and was successful in 3 (75%), with clinical follow-up ranging from 10 months to 7.5 years. The fourth patient subsequently underwent lead removal and later reimplantation in standard fashion, with no adverse sequelae.


Vagal nerve stimulator lead salvage is a safe and potentially advantageous strategy in the management of VNS-related infection. Further study is necessary to validate appropriate patient selection, success rates, and risks of this approach.

Abbreviations used in this paper: VNS = vagal nerve stimulator; WBC = white blood cell.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Nathan R. Selden, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Neurological Surgery, CH8N, Oregon Health & Science University, 3303 SW Bond Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97239. email:

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.




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