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Warming Blanket Infection

The forced air surgical warming blanket lawsuit states the manufacturers of warming blankets, such as Bair Hugger, knew about the increased risks of joint infections linked with the use of the warming blanket machines during hip and knee replacement surgeries, but didn't redesign the machine to make it safer, and also did not warn healthcare providers of the infection risk. In fact, the lawsuit states the manufacturers attempted to hide and discredit any scientific research that found an increased risk of hip and knee infections with the use of the machines.

The purpose of a warming blanket is to help maintain a patient's body temperature during surgery. Keeping the body at proper temperature has proven to reduce bleeding, speed up recovery time, and provide other benefits. For this reason, forced-air warming systems, fluid warming systems, intravenous fluid warming, and warming blankets often are used during surgery to help maintain a patient’s body temperature as close to normal as possible.

Surgical warming blankets, such as Bair Hugger, work like a forced-air heater, pushing warm air through a hose into a blanket covering a patient. The device releases warm air over a patient’s body, but also releases air under the surgical table. The air released under the table can cause germs and bacteria to spread throughout the room, landing on a patient's surgical site. This can cause an infection in the patient’s hip or knee, such as sepsis and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Unfortunately, these infections are very difficult to treat when they occur deep in a patient's joint.

The most serious side effects, problems and risks caused by the use of the surgical warming blankets are deep joint infections, especially in the hip and knee during replacement surgeries. Potential treatments for these infections include a combination of surgeries and antibiotic therapy. In severe cases, amputation, joint fusion, or removal and a two-stage revision surgery may be necessary. Patients who are not able to have a second surgery are usually treated with long-term antibiotics.

Some people are at a higher risk for developing infections after knee and hip replacement surgeries. Factors that increase the risk for infection include:

  • Diabetes
  • Immune deficiencies (such as HIV, lymphoma) 
  • Immunosuppressive treatments (such as chemotherapy or corticosteroids) 
  • Obesity
  • Peripheral vascular disease (poor circulation to the hands and feet) 

Some of the key signs and symptoms of an infected hip and knee replacement include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fevers, chills and night sweats
  • Increased pain or stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Warmth and redness around the wound
  • Wound drainage

When joint infection is suspected, early diagnosis and proper treatment increase the chances of a full recovery. If you have any symptoms of infection, you should immediately contact your medical provider and seek follow-up care.

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