It may possible to reduce the risk of postoperative wound infections by "warming" patients prior to surgery, according to new research published in The Lancet.
Warming patients during colorectal surgery has previously been shown to reduce infection rates, and now UK researchers from the University of North Tees, in Stockton-on-Tees, believe the same effect could be achieved in other types of surgery.
They studied a group of 421 patients who were undergoing "clean" surgery -uninfected operative surgery where no inflammation is encountered - such as breast, varicose vein or hernia operations.
The patients were separated into three groups; a control group who received no warming, a warmed group who received local application of heat or another group who received full body, or systemic, warming.
Among the non-warmed patients, 14 per cent experienced wound infections. In comparison, only 5 per cent of the patients who received local or systemic warming developed infected wounds. Furthermore, the patients who had been warmed received significantly lower doses of postoperative antibiotics than the non-warmed group.
Dr Andrew Melling, lead researcher, said, "The simple addition of two types of warming, applied at least 30 minutes before surgery, have both clearly reduced infection rates and therefore the need for additional treatment, including postoperative antibiotics."
Dr Melling said that preoperative warming in clean surgery might be an alternative to the controversial use of antibiotics, avoiding the associated risks of allergy and resistance.
According to a study by the National Audit Office last year, hospital-acquired infections are responsible for up to 5,000 deaths each year in the UK and cost the NHS about £1 billion annually. It estimated that at any one time, 9 per cent of patients in NHS hospitals are suffering from an infection acquired while on wards or in surgery.