This investigation is looking into multiple cases which allege that the use of the Bair Hugger forced-air blanket during surgery causes knee, joint, and other infections in patients.
Patients who are under anesthesia can’t regulate their body temperature. Under anesthesia, body temperature falls rapidly, which can lead to hypothermia, causing increased bleeding, longer hospital stays, higher mortality rates, and a greater chance of wound infection.
The Bair Hugger blanket was designed to be used during surgery and/or recovery, to keep the patient warm and encourage faster wound healing. It consists of a layered blanket with holes in the bottom layer. Warm air is forced in between the layers of the blanket by a heating device and comes out of the holes, helping the patient to maintain body temperature.
However, some patients now contend that the heating device, which sucks in and forces out air, changes air circulation patterns in the operating room. and that it can even stir up contaminants from the floor. These contaminants then circulate in the air in a way that they would not normally do, and can therefore contaminate open wounds. This is a particular difficulty during surgery that is at high risk for infections, like knee, joint, and heart-valve implant surgery.
The Journal of Joint and Bone Surgery published research that found that air from the Bair-Hugger contains 2,000 times more contaminants than air from a similar device.
Even the blanket’s inventor, Dr. Scott D. Augustine, now contends that hospitals should stop using it during implant surgeries and instead use a new invention of his that operates more like an electric blanket. The blanket’s current owner, 3M, counters that Dr. Augustine’s claims stem from bitterness over previous disputes and his desire to increase sales of his new, conductive warming device. However, research has shown that conductive devices do not disrupt the airflow in operating rooms or raise the level of contamination at the surgical site as forced-air devices do.
Patients who received joint implants with the use of the Bair Hugger have experienced a number of infections, including MRSA and sepsis.
Although infections are normally cleared up by the body’s own immune system, joint implants are made of metal or plastic, on which the body’s immune system can’t work as effectively. Also, the infection can create a sort of biological shield which prevents antibiotics from working.
Some infected patients have been treated with antibiotics, but others have required replacement of the implant, repeat surgeries (up to fifteen), and—in at least one case—amputation.
At this time, 3M is still refusing to recall its Bair Hugger devices. Despite the filing of at least fourteen other complaints involving the same issue, 3M has continued to insist that the Bair Hugger is safe.
Who is affected? Patients who have had surgery with the use of a Bair Hugger forced-air device.
What is the status of the Bair Hugger cases? The Bair Hugger cases have not yet settled or gone to trial. They are now in the investigation stage, to see if they can be combined. They are not likely to be handled as a class-action suit, but may end up as a mass torts or MDL (multi-district litigation). This means that each case within the final “group” lawsuit will be tried individually, but with the advantage of reduced expenses and legal proceedings. Although this will not occur for awhile yet, persons who have suffered harm from the use of Bair Hugger forced-air blankets should register complaints with an attorney as soon as possible, since a statute of limitations exists that can prevent later filing.