A Houston couple alleges that the Bair Hugger surgical warming blanket is to blame for surgical site infections. Both individuals have had hip surgery and both suffered an infection in the aftermath. They have undergone over a dozen additional procedures to address complications from the infection.
“Some of the days, I don’t remember anything,” said the husband to Click2Houston. “Then I would start to be coherent again, and whoops, you got to go to another surgery.” He now walks with a prosthetic joint. His wife says she doesn’t expect to walk again. “I was in bed for six months, you know, and couldn’t get out of bed,” she said. “Then I go from that to a wheelchair, and then you have to maneuver and not be able to use my legs and use my arms.”
The couple blames these infections on the Bair Hugger, a surgical warming blanket that is used to maintain a patient’s body temperature during surgery. Dr. Lisa Mouzi, an anesthesiologist with the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the Harris Health System, says that anesthesia lowers the body temperature which can increase the risk of infection, heart attack and even death.
“Other complications that arise from low body temperature are increased rates of post-operative wound infections (and) delayed wound healing,” said Mouzi, according to Click2Houston. “Patients who have low body temperature tend to bleed more during surgery, which means they are at higher risk for requiring a blood transfusion.”
Bair Hugger pumps warm air into the surgical blanket in order to combat the drop in body temperature that comes with anesthesia. The plaintiffs allege that the design of the blanket picks up contaminants from the OR floor and deposits them into the surgical site, leading to infection.
The American Society of Anesthesiologists say it is necessary to have a warming device during surgery. “Patients lose heat dramatically within the first 30 minutes of anesthesia, so our standard of care is to keep a patient warm,” said Mouzi, who said she would implement a warming device regardless of how long the procedure takes.
Roughly 300 adverse event reports involving the Bair Hugger have been submitted to the FDA in the past 16 years.
The device was previously owned by Arizant and is now owned by 3M, who says the allegations are unfounded. The company states that post-operative infections are common and can be caused by many different factors, citing a CDC study showing that most surgical site infections are caused by bacteria in the patient’s own body.
Mouzi says that the best advice is for patients to have a discussion with their anesthesiologist before surgery.