The Effect of Time Delay to Surgical Debridement of Open Tibia Shaft Fractures on Infection Rate

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Abstract

Historical practices have advocated emergent operative debridement for all open fractures. To date only studies in guinea pigs have demonstrated decreased infection with surgical intervention within 6 hours of injury. Recent studies have questioned this practice in humans. The purpose of this study was to determine if there was an increased infection rate based on time delay from presentation to initial operative debridement. A retrospective chart review was done from 1998 to 2004 to identify patients who presented to our level 1 trauma center with open tibia shaft fractures and had at least 2 years of follow-up. Two hundred fifteen open tibia shaft fractures in 206 patients were included in this study. A time delay of 0 to 6 hours revealed a 10.8% (7/65) infection rate, of 6 to 12 hours a 9.5% (9/95) infection rate, of 12 to 24 hours a 5.6% (2/36) infection rate, and no infections in a delay >24 hours (N=19). Using the Mantel-Haenszel chi-square test, P=.12; Fisher exact test P value was .53. Combining time intervals to 0 to 12 hours and >12 hours returned 10% (16/160) and 3.6% (2/55) infection rates, respectively. Fisher exact test P value was .17. Statistical analysis failed to show significant differences among the various time interval groups. Based on current evidence, we recommend that in the absence of gross contamination, early informal irrigation should be done on an urgent basis along with initiation of intravenous antibiotics, while a formal debridement combined with fixation, if indicated, can be done later in a timely manner.

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