Lawsuits allege hot-air blankets used primarily to help maintain patients’ body temperature during surgery have been linked to surgical site infections resulting in hospitalizations, additional surgeries, permanent disability, amputations and death.
Bair Huggers, manufactured by 3M subsidiary Arizant Healthcare, are the country’s top-selling surgical warming device. Introduced in 1987, 3M Bair Huggers have been used on more than 200 million patients around the world. The devices work by pushing warm air through a flexible hose into a blanket that is draped over the patient.
While these types of blankets have been shown to reduce bleeding and allow for faster recovery, they are under scrutiny for the possibility that the warm air that recirculates within the blanket can become contaminated. When contaminated air circulates over a surgical site, infections such as MRSA or sepsis can occur.
Patients who have undergone hip or knee replacement surgery are particularly at risk of infections deep within the joint, which can be especially difficult to treat.
3M and Arizant have dismissed safety concerns regarding the warming blankets, but Dr. Scott Augustine, inventor of the Bair Hugger, says hospitals should stop using them during some surgeries – such as joint replacement surgeries and artificial heart valves – because of the risk for infection is too great.
At least 14 lawsuits are pending against 3M and Arizant by patients who have had limbs amputated after developing antibiotic-resistant infections they claim they contracted from the warming blankets. The lawsuits accuse 3M and Arizant of selling a defective product and failing to warn about the risk of infection.