Category Archives: Complications

Early Antibiotic Administration In Open Fractures

Recommendations for open fracture management has evolved over the past 20 years. The old-timey rule used to be: all open fractures need to be treated within 8 hours. This treatment could be washout and ORIF, washout and external fixation, or just washout alone. The washout was the constant across all types of management.

Then the orthopedics literature began to suggest that “lesser” fractures (Gustilo I – II) could go a bit longer. Some centers extended their required time to washout up to 12 or even 16 hours. Subsequently, the value of early IV antibiotics was recognized, and the time to washout started to change again.

Now, we have recommendations for early IV antibiotics competing with the old recommendations for prompt washout. Who is winning?

There are two recent papers that seem to provide conflicting recommendations regarding antibiotics. The first is in process for publication by the ortho group at San Francisco General Hospital. They studied 230 open fracture patients at their Level I Trauma center over a five-year period. They monitored for surgical site infection that occurred during the first 90 days after injury.

Here are the factoids:

  • It took 450 consecutive patients to find the 230 study patients due to these exclusion criteria: missing documentation of antibiotic administration, delayed presentation, and loss to followup
  • There were 169 Gustilo Type I or II fractures and 61 Type III fractures
  • They noted a trend (p = 0.053) toward infection in patients who had antibiotic administration an average of 83 minutes after arrival vs those who received them within one hour
  • Patients who received their antibiotics 2 hours after arrival had a 2.4x increase in likelihood for infection within 90 days

But there was another paper published in the same journal this year that shows the opposite result. This one is from the University of Bristol in the UK. This one reviewed only Gustilo Type III fractures and observed changes in the deep infection rate, before and after the National Health Service guidance on antibiotic administration changed from within three hours to one hour post-injury.

Some more factoids for you:

  • A total of 176 patients were identified at a single center, and only 152 were left after the usual exclusions
  • Average time to antibiotic administration decreased from 180 minutes to 160 minutes after the new guidance was issued (60 minutes(!))
  • Only 12 patients developed deep infections with a median followup of 26 months
  • On regression analysis, no obvious factors  for increased risk were identified

Bottom line: So what gives? Two different answers: antibiotics given after 2 hours is associated with an increased risk of infection, vs no difference?

No, not really. Talk about apples to bananas. The first study looks at all open fractures, not just the most severe. It does not really define “surgical site infection,” so can we assume it was any infection? We don’t know. The second study looked only at deep infections.

The sample sizes are marginal in both studies, although the first was able to show a significant result despite this. And, of course, these are association studies, so other factors could be at play to manifest an infection or not. Both groups showed an 8-11% infection rate of some kind in their Gustilo Grade III fractures. 

But the biggest issue with the second study is that, despite guidance that antibiotics should be given within an hour, the average time decreased from 3 hours to only 2:40. This is still beyond the two hour threshold to higher infection rates suggested in the first paper.

So what do I make of all of this? The UK paper is lacking the power and enough of a treatment change to be taken seriously. The San Francisco paper shows borderline results with a 2.4x increase in all infections if antibiotics are given after 2 hours. 

So until we have better data and larger series, 1 hour antibiotic administration seems like a painless way to decrease the likelihood of an infection. But whether that can safely delay the time to washout remains to be seen.

References:

  • Delay of Antibiotic Administration Greater than 2 Hours Predicts Surgical Site Infection in Open Fractures. Injury, in press, May 29, 2020.
  • Time to intravenous antibiotic administration (TIbiA) in severe open tibial fractures: Impact of change to national guidance. Injury 51:1086-1090, 2020.
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More On Lead Poisoning And Retained Bullets

Trauma professionals frequently have to leave bullets in patients. It is often more disruptive to go digging the projectiles out than to just leave them in place. But patients always want to know why and what the consequences might be.

In my last post, I discussed a very old paper on what we know about lead levels and retained bullets. Very recently, a meta-analysis was published that provides a better picture of this topic. They somehow managed to find over 2000 articles dealing with lead toxicity and bullets out there. But after someone had the pleasure of reviewing each of them, they found only 12 that had any meaningful or actionable information.

Here are the factoids:

  • All studies were observational (duh! It would be difficult to get your IRB to approve a study where patients were shot on purpose)
  • There were five cross-sectional studies, four case-control studies, and three prospective cohort studies
  • The studies were small, with a median of only 26 patients (range 15-120)
  • Eleven of the twelve studies showed an association with retained bullets and elevated blood lead levels
  • Three studies showed elevated blood levels if a fracture was present
  • The higher the number of retained fragments, the more likely lead levels were to be high
  • Higher lead levels were associated with retained fragments near a bone or joint
  • There were no good correlations with number of fragments and location vs actual lead toxicity

Bottom line: Even using meta-analysis, it is difficult to tease out meaningful answers to this question. That speaks to the low numbers of papers and their quality. However, this study does provide a little bit of guidance.

Retained bullet fragments are probably not a big worry in most patients. The bothersome cases are those where the fragments are in or near a bone or joint. And even though few patients actually developed lead toxicity, lead levels approaching 5 micrograms/dL can have physiologically significant negative effects. 

Recommendation: If your patient has a retained bullet fragment near a bone or joint, or they have “multiple” retained fragments (no good definition of this), they should have blood lead levels measured every three months for a year. If the level is rising, and certainly if it reaches the 5μ/dL level, attempts should be made to remove the fragments.

Reference: Lead toxicity from retained bullet fragments: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Trauma 87(3):707-716, 2019.

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Can Lead Poisoning Occur After A Gunshot?

This is a fairly common question from victims of gunshots and their families. As you know, bullets are routinely left in place unless they are superficial. It may cause more damage to try to extract one, especially if it has come to rest in a deep location. But is there danger in leaving the bullet alone?

One of the classic papers on this topic was published in 1982 by Erwin Thal at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The paper recounted a series of 16 patients who had developed signs and symptoms of lead poisoning (plumbism) after a gunshot or shotgun injury. The common thread in these cases was that the injury involved a joint or bursa near a joint. In some cases the missile passed through the joint/bursa but came to rest nearby, and a synovial pseudocyst formed which included the piece of lead. The joint fluid bathing the projectile caused lead to leach into the circulation.

The patients in the Parkland paper developed symptoms anywhere from 3 days to 40 years after injury. As is the case with plumbism, symptoms were variable and nonspecific. Patients presented with abdominal pain, anemia, cognitive problems, renal dysfunction and seizures to name a few.

Bottom line: Any patient with a bullet or lead shot that is located in or near a joint or bursa should have the missile(s) promptly and surgically removed. Any lead that has come to rest within the GI tract (particularly the stomach) must be removed as well. If a patient presents with odd symptoms and has a history of a retained bullet, obtain a toxicology consult and begin a workup for lead poisoning. If levels are elevated, the missile must be extracted. Chelation therapy should be started preop because manipulation of the site may further increase lead levels. The missile and any stained tissues or pseudocyst must be removed in their entirety.

Granted, this is a very old paper. Over the years, a few papers on the topic have popped up from time to time. In my next post, I’ll review a meta-analysis on this topic that was published just last year.

Reference: Lead poisoning from retained bullets. Ann Surg 195(3):305-313, 1982.

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Air Embolism From an Intraosseous (IO) Line

Intraosseous (IO) lines are a godsend when we are faced with a patient who desperately needs access but has no veins. The tibia is generally easy to locate and the landmarks for insertion are straightforward. They are so easy to insert and use, we sometimes “set it and forget it”, in the words of infomercial guru Ron Popeil.

But complications are possible. The most common is an insertion “miss”, where the fluid then infuses into the knee joint or soft tissues of the leg. Problems can also arise when the tibia is fractured, leading to leakage into the soft tissues. Infection is extremely rare.

This photo shows the inferior vena cava of a patient with bilateral IO line insertions (black bubble at the top of the round IVC).

During transport, one line was inadvertently disconnected and probably entrained some air. There was no adverse clinical effect, but if the problem is not recognized and the line is not closed properly, there could be.

Bottom line: Treat an IO line as carefully as you would a regular IV. You can give anything through it that can be given via a regular IV: crystalloid, blood, drugs. And even air, so be careful!

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Best Of EAST #9: Is TXA Associated With VTE?

Most trauma programs can be divided into two types: those that believe in tranexamic acid (TXA) and those that don’t. I won’t get into the details of the CRASH-2 study here. But those centers that don’t believe usually give one of two reasons: they don’t think it works or they think the risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE) is too high.

EAST put together a multi-institutional trial to see if there was an association between TXA administration and subsequent VTE. The results are being reported as one of the paper presentations at the meeting this week. A retrospective study of the experience of 15 trauma centers was organized. A power analysis was preformed in advance, which showed that at least 830 patients were needed to detect a positive result.

Adult patients who received more than 5 units of blood during the first 24 hours were included. There were a lot of exclusionary criteria. They included death within 24 hours, pregnancy, pre-injury use of anticoagulants, interhospital transfer, TXA administration after 3 hours, and asymptomatic patients that had duplex VTE surveillance (huh?). The primary outcome studied was incidence of VTE, and secondary outcomes were MI, stroke, length of stay, and death.

Here are the factoids:

  • There were 1,333 eligible patients identified, and 887 (67%) received TXA
  • Females were significantly (over 2x) more likely to receive TXA (46% vs 19%)
  • 80% of patients given TXA received VTE prophylaxis, whereas only 60% of those who did not receive TXA got prophylaxis (also significant)
  • TXA patients had a statistically significantly higher ISS (27) compared to non-TXA patients (25) but this is not clinically significant
  • Mortality in the TXA group was significantly lower (17% vs 34%)
  • The number of units of blood, plasma, and platelets transfused were significantly lower in the TXA group
  • VTE rate appeared lower in the TXA group, but once multivariate analysis was applied, there was no difference

The group concluded that there was no association between TXA and VTE, but that it was linked to decreased mortality and transfusion need.

My comment: This was a study done the way they are supposed to be! Know your objectives and study outcomes up front. Figure out how many patients are needed to tease out any differences. And use understandable statistics to do so.

But, of course, it’s not perfect. No retrospective study is. Nor is any multi-institutional trial. There are lots of little variations and biases that can creep in. But the larger than required sample size helps with reducing the noise from these issues.

Basically, we have a decent study that shows that the clinical end points that we usually strive for are significantly improved in patients who have TXA administered. We don’t know why, we just know that it’s a pretty good association.

This study shows that the usual reasons given for not using TXA don’t appear to hold true. So hopefully it will convert a few of the TXA non-believers out there. I’m excited to hear more details during the presentation at the meeting.

Reference: Association of TXA with venous thromboembolism in bleeding trauma patients: an EAST multicenter study. EAST Annual Assembly, Paper #13, 2020.

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