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Peter J. Brodhead | Mar 5, 2015

Is The 3M Bair Hugger Forced-Air Warmer Dangerous?

Categories: Product Liability

When patients must undergo surgery, it is necessary to keep them warm in order to shorten the time it takes to recover as well as to minimize excess bleeding. Originally manufactured by Arizant Healthcare, Inc., the 3M Bair Hugger forced-air Warming Blanket is intended for one-time use. The blanket connects to a portable heater which disperses warm/hot onto the surgical patient’s skin. This allows the patient under anesthesia to better regulate body temperature.

Risks Associated With the 3M Bair Hugger Blanket

Introduced in 1988, the Bair Hugger profoundly impacted surgical procedures, yet may also pose serious risks. These risks increase exponentially among patients who are undergoing surgery for hip or knee replacements or other joint replacements. According to some data, the heated air which is forced onto the patient’s skin couldpotentially distribute hospital bacteria into the open wounds.

This bacteria could place patients in grave jeopardy for developing a deep joint infection. Patients who get a deep joint infection after being treated with a 3M Bair Hugger could require additional surgical procedures, IV antibiotic treatment, joint implant removal and revision surgery, the placement of an antibiotic spacer in the affected joint and even amputation. Physical therapy, both short and long-term could be required as a result of the joint infection caused by the Bair Hugger.

2,000 Times More Contaminants Found in the Bair Hugger

According to lawyersandsettlements.com, one study done in 2012, showed the air which was distributed by the 3M Bair Hugger forced-air Warming Blanket contained a staggering 2,000 times more contaminants than other similar devices1. The Bair Hugger was compared to an air-free Hot Dog conductive warming blanket in which only 1,000 contaminant particles per cubic meter of air were found. The Bair Hugger had a particle count of 2,174,000 per cubic meter of air. Even the doctor who invented the Bair Hugger is now telling surgeons to stop using the device. Dr. Scott Augustine helped pioneer the idea of keeping a patient warm during surgical procedures more than two decades ago. Dr. Augustine is an anesthesiologist from Minnesota and his Bair Hugger invention both changed the way surgeries are conducted and made the doctor rich.

Safer Alternatives to the Bair Hugger?

Augustine’s invention carries warmed air through a hose to a special blanket which is draped across the patient. Dr. Augustine now says patients receiving implant devices such as knee and hip joints or artificial heart valves could be in danger when a Bair Hugger is used. The forced air of the Bair Hugger, he says, can spread bacteria associated with infections acquired in the hospital. In what many consider to be too much of a coincidence, Dr. Augustine claims to have a safer alternative to the Bair Hugger. The new invention does not use forced air like the Bair Hugger, rather works more like an electric blanket.

Despite Dr. Augustine’s assertion the Bair Hugger can cause extremely serious infections, some say no clear evidence exists which shows the Bair Hugger is dangerous. In response, Dr. Augustine recently presented data to the ECRI Institute which supported his contentions that bacteria generated by the Bair Hugger blanket could be responsible for hospital infections. Another study conducted by orthopedic surgeons, and published in theJournal of Bone & Joint Surgery appears to positively link the Bair Hugger forced-air warmer to an increase in joint replacement infection. McGovern et al reported an infection rate of 3.1 percent with the use of forced air warming compared with 0.8 percent when a conductive warming device was used. The authors suggested that discontinuing the forced air warming could decrease the infection rate by 74 percent2.

Getting Legal Help after a Serious Bair Hugger Injury

Those who have suffered serious deep joint infection after undergoing a surgical procedure in which a Bair Hugger forced-air warmer was used should immediately contact an experienced attorney. Consequences of the Bair Hugger such as amputation, removal of prosthesis, long term IV antibiotic treatment or physical therapy or additional surgical procedures might have been preventable and should be addressed.

1. http://www.lawyersandsettlements.com/articles/bair-hugger-warming-blanket/bair-hugger-lawsuit-warming-blanket-3m-2-20958.html

2. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/269701983_Forced_Air_Warming_Devices_in_Orthopaedics_A_Focused_Review_of_the_Literature