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Bair Hugger study doesn't bode well as lawsuits filed

There are hip replacement and knee replacement patients nationally who suffer from serious infections seemingly as a result of their exposure to a warming blanket while they underwent the procedure. Now, injured patients are seeking compensation for medical expenses and for other losses. The Bair Hugger is a particular warming device at the center of litigation.

"There are currently tens of thousands of patients in hospitals all across the United States who undergo surgery each month which involves intra-operative use of the Bair Hugger forced air warming blankets," one federal plaintiff's lawsuit starts out. "Many of these patients now find themselves at significantly increased risk of infection and severe medical complications as a result of the use of Bair Hugger."

There is science backing up these Bair Hugger infection claims. One piece of the puzzle came from a 2013 edition of the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists Journal. British researchers discovered that the intake filters on these forced-air warming devices were less than 64 percent efficient.

Researchers in the U.K. studied the Bair Hugger in action.

"Forced-air warming devices are effective for the prevention of surgical hypothermia," according to a portion of the study that was carried out by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust. "However, these devices intake nonsterile floor-level air, and it is unknown whether they have adequate filtration measures to prevent the internal buildup or emission of microbial contaminants. We rated the intake filtration efficiency of a popular current-generation forced-air warming device (Bair Hugger model 750, Arizant Healthcare) using a monodisperse sodium chloride aerosol in the laboratory. We further sampled 23 forced-air warming devices (same model) in daily hospital use for internal microbial buildup and airborne-contamination emissions via swabbing and particle counting."

Filtration didn't work well, to say the least.

"Laboratory testing found the intake filter to be 63.8 percent efficient," researchers wrote. "Swabbing detected microorganisms within 100 percent of the forced-air warming blowers sampled, with isolates of coagulase-negative staphylococci, mold, and micrococci identified. Particle counting showed 96 percent of forced-air warming blowers to be emitting significant levels of internally generated airborne contaminants out of the hose end. These findings highlight the need for upgraded intake filtration, preferably high-efficiency particulate air filtration (99.97 percent efficient), on current-generation forced-air warming devices to reduce contamination buildup and emission risks."

This was not the only telltale study. There were older studies pinpointing warming-blanket deficiencies that allegedly the manufacturer did not pay enough attention to.

"Moving Party alleges in his Complaint, among other things," reads the lawsuit "that the Bair Hugger products are defective because they were improperly designed and manufactured and Defendants failed to include an appropriate warning with the devices. Furthermore, Moving Party also alleges that Defendants had knowledge of the alleged defects and dangers, citing to medical reports and journals dating back to the 1990s. As a result, Moving Party alleges he has suffered from physical injuries, pain, suffering, emotional distress, and economic damages as a result of Defendants' Bair Hugger products, which required plaintiffs to undergo additional surgeries because of the Bair Hugger-induced infection."

A panel of federal judges might decide someday to centralize federal Bair Hugger lawsuits before a single judge, thus paving the way for an efficient across-the-board conduct of pretrial proceedings.

In the meantime, patients with infections who underwent surgery involving the Bair Hugger may want to contact an attorney to determine what their legal options are. There are a number of places to turn for help. One of them is simply to call one of the experienced attorneys at Reich & Binstock at 1-866-LAW-2400.

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