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Delayed debridement of severe open fractures is associated with a higher rate of deep infection

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This study explores the relationship between delay to surgical debridement and deep infection in a series of 364 consecutive patients with 459 open fractures treated at an academic level one trauma hospital in North America.

The mean delay to debridement for all fractures was 10.6 hours (0.6 to 111.5). There were 46 deep infections (10%). There were no infections among the 55 Gustilo-Anderson grade I open fractures. Among the grade II and III injuries, a statistically significant increase in the rate of deep infection was found for each hour of delay (OR = 1.033: 95% CI 1.01 to 1.057). This relationship shows a linear increase of 3% per hour of delay. No distinct time cut-off points were identified. Deep infection was also associated with tibial fractures (OR = 2.44: 95% CI 1.26 to 4.73), a higher Gustilo-Anderson grade (OR = 1.99: 95% CI 1.004 to 3.954), and contamination of the fracture (OR = 3.12: 95% CI 1.36 to 7.36). These individual effects are additive, which suggests that delayed debridement will have a clinically significant detrimental effect on more severe open fractures.

Delayed treatment appeared safe for grade 1 open fractures. However, when the negative prognostic factors of tibial site, high grade of fracture and/or contamination are present we recommend more urgent operative debridement.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2014;96-B:379–84.

Correspondence should be sent to Mr P. D. Hull; e-mail:

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