Intraoperative contamination and space suits: a potential mechanism

  • Simon W. Young
  • Carl ChisholmEmail author
  • Mark Zhu
Original Article


The body exhaust suit (BES) of Charnley creates ‘negative pressure’ inside the gown using intake/outtake tubing. Modern ‘space suit’ (SS) systems incorporate helmet-based intake fans, which use the hood material as a filter and create ‘positive pressure’ inside the gown. While early studies of BES demonstrate a clear reduction in infection rates following arthroplasty, recent clinical data on SS use has paradoxically reported a marked increase. We hypothesized that the positive pressure inside the gown could carry air and particles via the unsealed area around the surgeon’s cuff into the operative field. We performed 12 simulated operations with the surgeons hands covered in fluorescent 0.5 micron powder that approximates the size of shedded skin squames. Photographs under UV light and air particle counts were used to compare potential contamination rates between SS and conventional gowns using a standardised scoring system. The highest powder migration was seen in the SS group with a score of 15.3 out of 28. No powder migration was seen in the standard gown group (p = 0.028). This study provides a plausible explanation for the increase in infection rates seen with SS use. We recommend SS be considered for personal protection only and supplemented with sealant tape around the inner glove.


Infection Arthroplasty Operating theatre Clothing Spacesuits 



We thank associate Professor Chris Frampton, for his statistical analysis.

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag France 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Orthopaedic SurgeryNorth Shore HospitalAucklandNew Zealand

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