Sounds far-fetched? Not if you consider that tissue hypoxia around the wound might be responsible for increased rate of infections:
A technique pioneered by University Hospital of North Durham scientists could cut the number of patients who develop infections following operations.
The team have found a way to predict whether or not a wound will become infected as little as 12 hours after surgery, using an handheld probe.
Their research, published this month in the prestigious British Journal of Surgery, could help doctors and nurses act quickly to prevent infections in the most vulnerable patients.
Surgical wound infections, including those caused by MRSA, are a significant cause of problems for patients trying to recover from major operations.
Contamination of the wound with bacteria is one obvious cause for this, and there are strict hygiene procedures in place to try to minimise the risk of this in operating theatres and on wards.
However, some patients have a far higher risk of developing an infection. This is because not enough oxygen-rich blood is reaching their wound. This not only slows down healing, offering more time for an infection to take hold, but the lack of oxygen also hampers the body’s immune system as it tackles harmful bacteria.
The technique works on a simple principle – blood cells carrying oxygen are bright red, while blood cells which have no oxygen are purple in colour.
The Durham research used a handheld device which bounces infra-red light into the skin around the wound. The signal that reflects back is different depending on the colour of blood cells in the wound.
The study looked at 59 patients recovering from abdominal surgery, who were scanned at 12, 24 and 48 hours after their operation, then examined a week later to check for signs of infection.
In all, 17 patients developed an infection in their wound, and scans from these patients had suggested significantly lower levels of oxygen in the tissue surrounding the wound.