JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Sternal wound infections following cardiac surgery: risk factor analysis and interdisciplinary treatment.

OBJECTIVE: Sternal wound infections are a serious complication after cardiac surgery. Although a variety of treatment algorithms has been published, the ideal operative treatment of complicated median sternotomy wounds is the subject of ongoing controversy.

METHODS: In a retrospective review, 3016 consecutive open-heart surgery patients between January 2003 and June 2006 were evaluated: 65.6% underwent coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG), 16.3% cardiac valve replacement, 13.5% combined CABG and valve replacement, 2.8% aortic reconstruction or replacement, 0.6% artificial heart implantation, and 1.2% cardiac transplantation.

RESULTS: Sixty-three patients (2.1%) developed sternal wound infections. Fifty-six wounds were treated with débridement, irrigation, and re-wiring. Thirty-four patients were treated using vacuum-assisted closure therapy. Nineteen of these patients eventually required plastic surgical coverage with either rectus abdominis or pectoralis major flaps. Diabetes mellitus, rethoracotomy, duration of operation and, interestingly, the time of operation (morning versus afternoon) presented significant risk factors for development of sternal wound infections (P <.05). Three patients developed partial flap necrosis and required a second flap. Eventually, all defects were successfully reconstructed and there was no recurrent ostemyelitis noticed over the entire observation period (follow-up, 23 +/- 13 months).

DISCUSSION: Patients at risk for development of sternal wound infections may be preferably operated in the morning at first position. Vaccuum-assisted closure therapy acts as a link between radical débridement and definitive plastic coverage. The type of flap is individually chosen based on location of the defect and availability of certain vascular axis. The presented interdisciplinary approach with radical surgical débridement, application of subatmospheric pressure dressings, and early involvement of the plastic surgical team allows efficient treatment of infected median sternotomy wounds.

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