The New World Health Organization Recommendations on Perioperative Administration of Oxygen to Prevent Surgical Site Infections: A Dangerous Reductionist Approach?

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Abstract

In October 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) published recommendations for preventing surgical site infections (SSIs). Among those measures is a recommendation to administer oxygen at an inspired fraction of 80% intra- and postoperatively for up to 6 hours. SSIs have been identified as a global health problem, and the WHO should be commended for their efforts. However, this recommendation focuses only on the patient’s “wound,” ignores other organ systems potentially affected by hyperoxia, and may ultimately worsen patient outcomes.

The WHO advances a “strong recommendation” for the use of a high inspired oxygen fraction even though the quality of evidence is only moderate. However, achieving this goal by disregarding other potentially lethal complications seems inappropriate, particularly in light of the weak evidence underpinning the use of high fractions of oxygen to prevent SSI. Use of such a strategy thus should be intensely discussed by anesthesiologists and perioperative physicians.

Normovolemia, normotension, normoglycemia, normothermia, and normoventilation can clearly be safely applied to most patients in most clinical scenarios. But the liberal application of hyperoxemia intraoperatively and up to 6 hours postoperatively, as suggested by the WHO, is questionable from the viewpoint of anesthesia and perioperative medicine, and its effects will be discussed in this article.

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