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FDA focuses on surgical fire prevention

The Food and Drug Administration has launched a safety initiative to stop surgical fires from happening. The FDA says that surgical fires are a persistent problem, resulting in preventable injuries and sometimes fatalities each year.

Nationwide, there are up to 650 surgical fires each year. The circumstances that are needed to cause a surgical fire seem unlikely, but in fact surgical equipment can be highly flammable. If the surgical team makes a mistake or is negligent, it can be easy for equipment to ignite.

The FDA says that in order for a fire to start during a surgery, there must be an oxidizer, an ignition source, and fuel. These elements can come together when an instrument such as a cauterizing device, drill, or laser comes into contact with a sponge or surgical drapes.

Oxygen is a common culprit in igniting surgical fires, according to experts. Operating rooms often have high oxygen levels that are increased when an oxygen tank is used during the procedure. High levels of oxygen can make most things flammable; including tiny hairs that may help spread a fire over a large portion of a patient’s body.

Some of the surgical fire cases are quite shocking and in many instances negligence has been found when the incidents are investigated. Late last year, a Washington, D.C., woman was having surgery and improperly used alcohol antiseptic ignited, burning her upper airway, chest, throat, face, and ear. The woman was 72-years-old at the time and was never able to leave the hospital. The burns and subsequent complications caused her wrongful death two years later. An investigation found that the surgical team did not allow the antiseptic to dry for the required amount of time.

Source: KY Post, “FDA focusing on patients catching fire in operating rooms,” Aisling Swift, June 12, 2012.

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