Open extremity fractures: Impact of delay in operative debridement and irrigation

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Early (<8 hours) operative debridement and irrigation (D&I) of open fractures are considered essential to reduce the risk of deep infection. With the advent of powerful antimicrobials, this axiom has been challenged. The current study evaluates the rates of deep infections of open fractures in relation to the time to the first D&I.


A list of all blunt open fractures during a 6-year period was obtained from the trauma registry. Patients were evaluated for age, Injury Severity Score (ISS), physiologic derangement (systolic blood pressure, lactate, Revised Trauma Score [RTS]), and fracture type (Gustilo). Time to the first D&I was calculated. All patients received appropriate prophylactic antimicrobials. Infection rates were calculated and correlated to the time to the first D&I (<8 hours vs. >8 hours). Regression analysis was performed to identify independent predictors of infection.


During the 72-month study period, 404 patients met entry criteria, with 415 open extremity fractures (upper, 129; lower, 287). Early (<8 hours) and delayed (>8 hours) groups were well matched, although the age was lower and ISS was higher in the group with greater than 8 hours. The rates of infection were 35 (11%) of 328 (<8 hour) and 17 (19%) of 87 (>8 hours) (p < 0.05). When fractures were subgrouped by extremity, for the lower extremity, both a delay of greater than 8 hours and higher Gustilo type correlated with the development of infection. In the upper extremity, only higher Gustilo type correlated, and a delay to the first D&I did not increase the incidence of infection. Regression analysis revealed that higher ISS (odd ratio [OR], 1.052; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.019–1.086), Gustilo grade, and a delay of greater than 8 hours (OR, 2.035; 95% CI, 1.022–4.054) were independent predictors of infection for the all-extremity model. Separate models for upper and lower extremities showed that the same three parameters were independent predictors for the lower extremity (ISS: OR, 1.045; 95% CI, 1.004–1.087; Gustilo type and >8-hour delay: OR, 3.006; 95% CI, 1.280–7.059), but none for the upper extremity.


Delay of greater than 8 hours to the first D&I for open fractures of the lower extremity increases the likelihood of infection but not for the upper extremity. Higher Gustilo type open fractures have a higher incidence of infection for both upper and lower extremities. The results have important implications in an era of decreasing surgeon availability, especially in off hours.


Therapeutic study, level IV.

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