Over 500 lawsuits have been filed by people who developed deep joint infections after the Bair Hugger surgical warming blanket was used in their hip or knee replacement.
Deep joint infections are one of the most serious complications associated with hip and knee replacement surgery, occurring in about 1% of hip implants and 0.7% of knee implants. When infections occur in the first few months after surgery, the implant often does not fixate properly and additional surgery is necessary to remove and replace the implant.
What is the problem?
Sterility in the operating room is essential during hip or knee surgery. Prosthetic devices are designed with porous surfaces to encourage bone in-growth and fixation. Unfortunately, nooks and crannies also provide a good place for microbes to hide and multiply. Even tiny amounts of bacteria can form a “biofilm” on the surface of the prosthetic joint that is extremely difficult to cure.
Symptoms of a Joint Infection
- Increasing drainage from surgical incisions
- Warmth and redness
- Swelling and inflammation
- Severe pain that worsens
- Stiffness and limited flexibility in the joint
- And more
Treatment for Infected Prosthetic Joints
Infections that occur deep inside the body are difficult for the immune system to fight, especially when bacteria grow on a prosthetic hip or knee. Treatment often involves hospitalization to receive intravenous (IV) antibiotics and fluid. In many cases, surgery is necessary to remove the infected prosthesis, clean the joint, remove necrotic tissue, and implant antibiotic spacers. After the infection has been cured, the patient must undergo another surgery to implant a new artificial joint.
Joint Infections Linked to Bair Hugger
The Bair Hugger is a forced-air warming blanket that is used in four out of five hospitals in the United States. The system blows hot air into a single-use blanket that is draped over the patient. In 2010, the inventor of the Bair Hugger, Dr. Scott Augustine, told the New York Times that hospitals should stop using because it can spread bacteria associated with hospital-acquired infections. He said, “I am very proud of the old technology. But I am also proud to spread the word that there is a problem.”