Bacteria on external fixators: Which prep is best?

Daniel J. Stinner, Michael J. Beltran, Brendan D. Masini, Joseph C. Wenke, Joseph R. Hsu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: There are no established guidelines for the surgical prep of an external fixator in the operative field. This study investigates the effectiveness of different prep solutions and methods of application. METHODS: Forty external fixator constructs, consisting of a rod, pin, and pin to rod coupling device, were immersed in a broth of Staphylococcus aureus (lux) for 12 hours. Constructs were then randomized into four treatment groups: chlorhexidinegluconate (CHG) (4%) scrub, CHG (4%) spray, povidone-iodine (PI) (10%) scrub, and PI (10%) spray. Each construct was imaged with a specialized photon capturing camera system yielding the quantitative and spatial distribution of bacteria both before and after the prep. Each pin to bar clamp was loosened and moved 2 cm down the construct, simulating an external fixator adjustment, and reimaged. Spatial distribution of bacteria and total bacteria counts were compared. RESULTS: There was a similar reduction in bacteria after surgical prep when comparing all four groups independently (p = 0.19), method of application (spray vs. scrub, p = 0.27), and different solutions (CHG vs. PI, p = 0.41). Although bacteria were evident in newly exposed areas after external fixator adjustment, most notably within the loosened pin to bar clamp, it did not result in an increase in bacteria counts (all four groups, p = 0.11; spray vs. scrub, p = 0.18; CHG vs. PI, p = 0.99). CONCLUSIONS: Although there was no increase in bacteria counts after the simulated external fixator adjustment, it did expose additional bacteria previously unseen. Although there was no difference in surgical prep solution or method of application, consideration must be given to performing an additional surgical prep of the newly exposed surface after loosening of each individual external fixator component as this may further minimize potential bacteria exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)760-764
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • External-fixation
  • Infection
  • Invasive distraction
  • Surgical prep
  • Surgical-site infection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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