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Forced-Air Warming Blankets Associated with Risk for Deep Joint Infections

Santa Clara, CA: Reports of complications, specifically deep joint infections associated with the forced-air warmer blankets such as the 3M Bair Hugger, are coming to light from patients who have undergone hip or knee replacements. The blankets are used in hospitals to regulate the body temperature of patients undergoing orthopedic surgery.

However, these forced-air blankets may be associated with an increased risk for dangerous complications including deep joint infections, which can result in repeated hospitalizations; additional surgeries; removal of the orthopedic implant; possible amputation; intravenous antibiotic treatment; physical therapy; and placement of an antibiotic spacer in an infected joint.

The concern over potential complications in using forced-air warming blankets stems from studies that have been conducted on the blankets. While the studies have not conclusively determined that the blankets cause surgical site infections, they do raise concern about potential risks in using forced air warming blankets during orthopedic surgery.

In 2011, The Bone & Joint Journal published a study which found that "A significant increase in deep joint infection, as demonstrated by an elevated infection odds ratio (3.8, p = 0.024), was identified during a period when forced-air warming was used compared to a period when conductive fabric warming was used. Air-free warming is, therefore, recommended over forced-air warming for orthopaedic procedures."

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