Supplemental perioperative oxygen to reduce the incidence of surgical-wound infection

N Engl J Med. 2000 Jan 20;342(3):161-7. doi: 10.1056/NEJM200001203420303.


Background: Destruction by oxidation, or oxidative killing, is the most important defense against surgical pathogens and depends on the partial pressure of oxygen in contaminated tissue. An easy method of improving oxygen tension in adequately perfused tissue is to increase the concentration of inspired oxygen. We therefore tested the hypothesis that the supplemental administration of oxygen during the perioperative period decreases the incidence of wound infection.

Methods: We randomly assigned 500 patients undergoing colorectal resection to receive 30 percent or 80 percent inspired oxygen during the operation and for two hours afterward. Anesthetic treatment was standardized, and all patients received prophylactic antibiotic therapy. With use of a double-blind protocol, wounds were evaluated daily until the patient was discharged and then at a clinic visit two weeks after surgery. We considered wounds with culture-positive pus to be infected. The timing of suture removal and the date of discharge were determined by the surgeon, who did not know the patient's treatment-group assignment.

Results: Arterial oxygen saturation was normal in both groups; however, the arterial and subcutaneous partial pressure of oxygen was significantly higher in the patients given 80 percent oxygen than in those given 30 percent oxygen. Among the 250 patients who received 80 percent oxygen, 13 (5.2 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 2.4 to 8.0 percent) had surgical-wound infections, as compared with 28 of the 250 patients given 30 percent oxygen (11.2 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 7.3 to 15.1 percent; P=0.01). The absolute difference between groups was 6.0 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 1.2 to 10.8 percent). The duration of hospitalization was similar in the two groups.

Conclusions: The perioperative administration of supplemental oxygen is a practical method of reducing the incidence of surgical-wound infections.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Colon / surgery
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen / administration & dosage
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy*
  • Perioperative Care*
  • Rectum / surgery
  • Surgical Wound Infection / epidemiology
  • Surgical Wound Infection / prevention & control*


  • Oxygen