What Is a Bair Hugger?

Bair Hugger Warming Blankets, manufactured by 3M, are used to keep surgical patients warm. But studies have raised concerns about the potential to transmit infection as warm air circulates from the rest of the surgical room to the surgical site.

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Why Use a Bair Hugger?

Under general anesthesia, a patient’s temperature drops rapidly, putting the patient at risk of hypothermia, a dangerously low body temperature. Maintaining the normal body temperature of 98.6 reduces bleeding and recovery time. The Bair Hugger and other warming devices prevent perioperative hypothermia, a condition that can lead to infections, pressure sores, greater need for blood transfusions, and longer hospital stays.

How Does the Bair Hugger Work?

The Bair Hugger is a forced-air warming system. A disposable blanket is draped over (and sometimes under) the patient and connected to a heater/blower by a flexible hose. Warmed air accumulates under the blanket and escapes at the head of or the foot of the patient. This creates an airflow which brings air from underneath the surgical table and the floor into contact with the patient’s open wound.

What Are the Risks of Using a Bair Hugger Warming Blanket?

Studies have found that use of Bair Hugger warming blankets and other forced-air warming systems has the potential to introduce significant levels of bacteria and other contaminants into the surgical site.** This may increase the risk of infections and of deep joint infections. Patients have required multiple additional surgeries and amputations as a result. Patients who underwent heart surgery and hip or knee replacement are most susceptible to injuries as the result of the use of Bair Hugger warming blankets during those surgeries.

The inventor of the Bair Hugger, Dr. Scott D. Augustine, has come out against the continuing use of the Bair Hugger and other forced-air warming systems. In 2010 he told the New York Times he wants hospitals to stop using them:

These days, Dr. Augustine asserts that his invention is a danger to surgical patients receiving implant devices like artificial heart valves and joints. The forced air, he says, can spread bacteria associated with hospital-acquired infections.

What Can You Do?

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with a severe infection after undergoing hip or knee replacement or heart surgery using a 3M Bair Hugger warming blanket and would like legal advice, contact the experienced medical device attorneys at Thornton Law Firm. Call 1-888-341-1405  and ask to speak with Attorney Marilyn McGoldrick. Or tell us your story using our online form for a free, no-obligation consultation regarding your legal rights. Bair Hugger lawsuits have short, strictly enforced time limits, so seek legal advice as soon as possible.

  • A 2010 study in the American Journal of Infection Control concluded that forced-air warmers are ‘inadequate’ for ‘preventing the internal buildup and emission of microbial contaminants into the operating room.’
  • A 2011 study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (British Volume) found a ‘significant increase in deep joint infection, as demonstrated by an elevated infection odds ratio’ and recommended air-free warming over forced-air warming for orthopaedic procedures.
  • A 2012 study published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (British Volume) found that forced-air warming increases the number of particles over the surgical site (as compared with radiant warming) and concluded that the study finding ‘raises concern as bacteria are known to require particles for transport.’
  • A 2012 study published in Anaesthesia compared a Bair Hugger to an over-body conductive blanket and an under-body resistive mattress, and concluded that the Bair Hugger ‘generates convection current activity in the vicinity of the surgical site’. The authors warn that those currents ‘may disrupt ventilation airflows intended to clear airborne contaminants from the surgical site’.
  • A 2013 study published in Anesthesia and Analgesia comparing a Bair Hugger to other warming devices found ‘forced air warming was found to establish convection currents that mobilized resident air from nonsterile areas (under the anesthesia drape) upward and into the surgical site’.

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