Tom Sharon
Minimizing the risk of intraoperative infection


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Operating Room Contamination

A major source of sometimes lethal infection is contamination in the operating room during surgery. If you are undergoing surgery or sitting in the waiting room waiting for a loved one, there is nothing you can do to observe for potential mistakes. Moreover, when you sign the consent form, you agree with the statement that you accept the possibility of infection as being a reasonable risk.

Nonetheless, there is a standard of behavior for minimizing the incidence of contamination, called sterile technique. The one person in charge of watching the rest of the team for contamination is the circulating nurse. In addition, conscientious surgeons and technicians will watch each other and call out when a breach of sterility occurs. The person who committed the breach will change gloves and sometimes even regown when there is a doubt. This is not a perfect system, but it is all we have. The only way that you can have a positive influence on minimizing your chances of intraoperative infection is to have a discussion with your surgeon about sterile technique and, if possible, arrange a meeting before surgery with the circulating nurse. You will increase your comfort level if you can ask for and go over a list of routine operating room precautions for reducing the risk of contamination.
Furthermore, there is a group of air-filtration devices called laminar airflow. With these systems, sets of fans keep the air moving in one direction through microfilters, which results in removing a significant amount of germs from the air in the room. If your preferred surgeon can give you a choice of hospitals, find out which one has such air-cleaning mechanisms. Operating rooms built or renovated within the last ten years are more likely to have effective germ-reducing air-filtration technology.

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