The Hidden Risks of Forced-Air Warming Blankets

Hospitals have used forced-air warming blankets for nearly 30 years to help regulate patients’ body temperature during orthopedic surgery. During surgery, almost everyone goes into a hypothermic state in which they lose heat faster than the body can produce it. Even mild hypothermia can prolong recovery from surgery, which is why this special type of blanket was introduced.

The blankets work by forcing warm air through a disposable blanket, with the intention that it spreads evenly around the patient’s body. The blankets are supposed to help patients, but in some cases, the blankets can actually lead to severe infection.

Dangers of Forced-Air Warming Blankets

One of the concerns of forced-air warming blankets is that they may allow bacteria to enter the surgical site, most notably during hip replacement or knee replacement surgeries.  The blankets seem to be most harmful during orthopedic surgery or surgeries involving implants, when there already exists an increased risk for contamination of the surgical sites.

A study published by the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery found that forced-air warming results in a significant increase in the number of particles over the surgical site. This is of concern because bacteria can attach to the particles, spreading infection.

Even the inventor of the Bair Hugger warming blanket, the most ubiquitously used brand, has denounced the safety of the blanket, saying in a New York Times article in 2010, “I’m very proud of the old technology, but I am also proud to spread the word that there is a problem.”

Forced-Air Warming Blankets and the Law

 Lawsuits have been filed against Bair Hugger and its manufacturers 3M and Arizant, claiming that they were aware of the dangers of the device, but did not provide warning to healthcare providers or patients. If you were harmed by a forced-air warming blanket, whether you experienced a severe infection or burn, contact an Arkansas personal injury attorney to see if you’re eligible for compensation for your medical expenses, and pain and suffering.

(Bone Joint J 2013;95-B:407-10)

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