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What’s Lurking in the OR Air?
Airborne particulate matter has the potential to contaminate surgical wounds and cause post-op infections.
Dan Cook | Editor-in-Chief
Publish Date: September 15, 2022   |  Tags:   Infection Prevention Staff Safety
OP Air
ABOVE AND BEYOND Efforts to protect patients from avoidable harm should also focus on the space surrounding the sterile field.

Surgical teams take great care in cleaning surfaces, prepping the patient’s skin and making sure barrier protection is in place to reduce the risks of surgical site infections (SSIs). That might not be enough to address what’s wafting in the air around them. HVAC systems and laminar flow are designed to limit the amount of dust, lint and skin shedding in the OR, but these particles still contribute to SSIs, according to a study published in the journal Surgery.

The study’s authors say the accepted standard on the ventilation of ORs requires a minimum of 20 air changes per hour with a minimum of four outdoor air exchanges. They point out that externally sourced air can introduce microbial and chemical contaminates to the OR and say recirculated air typically has higher levels of biological and chemical contaminants than external air. 

Healthcare-acquired infection (HAIs) are categorized into 13 major types with SSIs being among the most prevalent, according to the study, which says 70% of the pathogens responsible for SSIs are potentially airborne and difficult to address through traditional infection control practices. “Although it has been historically accepted that pathogens responsible for HAIs originate primarily from surfaces, recent literature indicates that airborne microbial burden constitutes a significant portion of the overall pathogens responsible for HAIs,” notes the study.

“It’s important to note that even properly gowned healthcare workers and patients have been documented to shed between 3,000 and 50,000 microorganisms per minute and an estimated 10% of the microorganisms shed have the potential to be infectious,” write the authors.

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