The Bone & Joint Journal Vol. 100-B, No. 10

The effectiveness of ultra-clean air operating theatres in the prevention of deep infection in joint arthroplasty surgery

A. M. Thomas, M. J. Simmons

Deep infection was identified as a serious complication in the earliest days of total hip arthroplasty. It was identified that airborne contamination in conventional operating theatres was the major contributing factor. As progress was made in improving the engineering of operating theatres, airborne contamination was reduced. Detailed studies were carried out relating airborne contamination to deep infection rates.


In a trial conducted by the United Kingdom Medical Research Council (MRC), it was found that the use of ultra-clean air (UCA) operating theatres was associated with a significant reduction in deep infection rates. Deep infection rates were further reduced by the use of a body exhaust system. The MRC trial also included a detailed microbiology study, which confirmed the relationship between airborne contamination and deep infection rates.


Recent observational evidence from joint registries has shown that in contemporary practice, infection rates remain a problem, and may be getting worse. Registry observations have also called into question the value of “laminar flow” operating theatres.


Observational evidence from joint registries provides very limited evidence on the efficacy of UCA operating theatres. Although there have been some changes in surgical practice in recent years, the conclusions of the MRC trial remain valid, and the use of UCA is essential in preventing deep infection.


There is evidence that if UCA operating theatres are not used correctly, they may have poor microbiological performance. Current UCA operating theatres have limitations, and further research is required to update them and improve their microbiological performance in contemporary practice.

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