What is a Bair Hugger Forced Air Warmer?
Studies have confirmed that keeping a patient warm during a surgical procedure results in a better outcome, reducing excessive bleeding and allow patients to spend less time recovering from the operation. The Bair Hugger, invented by Dr. Scott Augustine, is a blanket-like device which is placed over a patient during surgery in order to help the patient maintain an even body temperature throughout the procedure. The Bair Hugger is attached to a portable heater which blows warm air through a flexible hose. The blanket has small perforations in the side which touches the patient, allowing the heated air to more fully disperse around the patient’s body.
How Can Infection Result from the Bair Hugger?
Recent studies have shown that the forced-air warming system of the Bair Hugger creates currents which send air to the non-sterile operating room floor. Since heat rises, the contaminated air then goes up and into the surgical site. The contaminants are mobilized, and the ventilation system is inadequate to remove those contaminants from the patient’s open body. This forced-air warming system is particularly risky when used in joint surgeries such as knee or hip replacements or heart valve replacements. It is theorized that when a Bair Hugger forced-air warming blanket is used in joint surgeries, a single bacteria can land on the artificial joint, secreting a biofilm and making the joint impermeable to antibodies or antibiotics.
Can Use of the Bair Hugger Lead to Amputations?
Any time a patient develops a deep joint infection, it is likely to have traumatic results. When a deep joint infection, caused by a Bair Hugger forced-air warming blanket, occurs, the patient can be forced to undergo 6-8 weeks of IV antibiotics, requiring an extended hospital stay. Patients can potentially lose a limb as a result of a Bair Hugger deep joint infection, which can alter their life forever. Once the deep joint infection is contained, the artificial joint must be re-implanted. The patient may be left with medical bills costing more than $100,000, as well as having a limb amputated as a result of the Bair Hugger design. Symptoms associated with a deep joint infection include pain which increases, inflammation, wound redness or warmth, wound drainage, fever, chills, extreme fatigue and night sweats.
What Data is Associated with Bair Hugger Risks?
A study published in The Bone and Joint Journal concluded the waste heat resulting from forced-air warming blankets creates a spinning vortex which sucks contaminated air from the OR floor, then deposits that contaminated air in the patient’s surgical site. This study found more than 2,000 times as many contaminated particles in the air around the surgical site as compared to warmers which do not used forced air.1
Does the Doctor Who Invented the Bair Hugger Believe it is Safe?
Although Dr. Augustine developed the Bair Hugger, he has since spoken out very vocally regarding the dangers associated with the forced-air warming blanket. In fact, Dr. Augustine wrote a letter to Arizant and 3M executives, accusing them of covering up the potential risks of the Bair Hugger.
Is There a Safer Alternative to the Bair Hugger?
In what may not be a coincidence, Dr. Augustine has developed a new warming blanket called the HotDog, which does not used forced air, rather works similarly to an electric blanket. The HotDog has done very well, particularly when pitted against the Bair Hugger. Two orthopedic surgeons concluded there could potentially be a 74 percent decrease in deep joint infection when use of the Bair Hugger was discontinued. The surgeons switched to the HotDog, and noted a much lower infection rate.2
Was 3M Aware of the Potential Risks Associated with the Bair Hugger?
The Bone and Joint Journal reported a 217,000 percent increase in contamination of wound sites when forced-air heating blankets were used.3 According to drugwatch.com, Bair Hugger warming blankets are used in more than 80 percent of all hospitals in the United States.4 Blogspot.com goes a step further, asserting Bair Hugger forced-air warming blankets make up 90 percent of all forced-air warmers in use.5 If these claims are accurate, then the Bair Hugger forced-air warmers are used in a significant number of surgical procedures where warming is deemed necessary. Due to the latest research, as well as Dr. Augustine’s crusade against the Bair Hugger, it seems unlikely 3M was unaware of the potential safety issues associated with the device. This could mean patients injured by a Bair Hugger may be able to claim failure to warn on the part of the manufacturer.
Are There Current Lawsuits Associated With the Bair Hugger?
At this juncture several lawsuits have been filed against the Bair Hugger manufacturer. Two of the plaintiffs allege they developed MRSA after a Bair Hugger forced-air warming blanket was used during their joint surgery. Another two suffered a limb amputation because of an alleged deep joint infection associated with the Bair Hugger. Those suffering injury from a Bair Hugger forced-air warming blanket should speak to a knowledgeable Bair Hugger product liability attorney to determine the best way to proceed.