Bair Hugger: Everything You Need to Know About This Potentially Dangerous Medical Device

David W. Hodges
David Hodges is a founding partner of Kennedy Hodges. He focuses his practice on personal injury claims.

During the course of any surgery, it is crucial for the body temperature of patients to remain stable. To address this issue, 3M and Arizant developed the Bair Hugger forced hot air warming device. The device includes blankets, warming units, and accessories. Bair Hugger has been used in millions of surgeries throughout the United States since it was first introduced nearly thirty years ago. Unfortunately, however, the use of these devices has now been linked to a dangerous risk of deep joint infection in patients undergoing knee or hip surgery. Victims may need extensive medical treatment, including surgery, to treat their injuries.

What Is the Bair Hugger Forced Hot Air Warming Device?

Bair Hugger is a therapy temperature management system. It is designed to prevent and treat hypothermia in surgical patients. The system consists of warming units and disposable blankets designed to distribute warm air across the patient before, during, and after surgery. There are 19 different blanket models, including seven for use in pediatric surgeries and three sterile blankets. The blankets are made from a non-woven material and have four temperature settings. The warming units are mounted on a pole or bed rail, or are placed on the floor.

The warming device created by 3M works like a forced-air heater. Warm air is pushed through a flexible hose into a blanket that is draped over a patient. The device then discharges the warm air over the patient’s body. It is designed to force the air gently and evenly throughout the blanket, using pressure points on the patient’s body to prevent the heat from reaching areas that are at risk for pressure sores or burns. The blankets are also designed to reduce the risk of unintended cooling caused by heat loss from evaporation by having drain holes where fluid passes through the surface of the blanket to the linen underneath.

The problem is that air is also released under the surgical table at the same time. The discharged air that lands under the table may cause germs and bacteria to become dispersed and recirculated. This contaminated air can then contaminate the patient’s surgical site, resulting in infection. These infections, including sepsis and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, are often very dangerous and potentially life threatening. The infections occur deep in a patient’s knee or hip joint and are therefore very difficult to treat.

Why Bair Hugger Forced Hot Air Warming Devices Are Used

Maintaining a patient’s core body temperature to as close to normal as possible helps to prevent serious complications from arising during and after surgery. Warming blankets are used for the following reasons:

  1. They can help maintain a patient’s body temperature during surgery.
  2. They can lessen bleeding.
  3. They can speed up recovery time for patients.

Unfortunately, along with the potential benefits of a forced air-warming device such as 3M’s Bair Hugger comes the risk of infection.

How Infections Occur After Using a Bair Hugger Forced Hot Air Warming Device

With any infection, the root cause is bacteria. We are exposed to bacteria constantly, but our bodies are typically able to deal with these bacteria using our own immune system. Unfortunately, however, the bacteria that is picked up from the surgical room floor as a result of the Bair Hugger forced hot air warming device is difficult for the human immune system to attack. Joint replacements used during these surgeries are typically made from metal and plastic. When the bacteria from the surgical room reaches these devices deep within the joint, it can create a film that acts as a biological shield. The bacteria is also resistant to antibiotics.

For victims of infection caused by the use of the Bair Hugger device during a knee or hip replacement surgery, the physical, financial, and emotional toll may be substantial. Fortunately, however, victims may be entitled to compensation for their losses. We are here to help. We encourage you to check out our many case results to learn more about how we have helped many other clients protect their legal rights after harm caused by a dangerous medical device.