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Plast Reconstr Surg. 2003 Feb;111(2):744-50; discussion 751-2.

Effects of burn wound excision on bacterial colonization and invasion.

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Department of Surgery, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, USA.


Rates of survival after thermal injury have improved in the past two decades, and rates of wound infections and sepsis have decreased during the same period. Early excision has been advocated as one of the major factors, but its safety and efficacy and the exact timing of burn excision are still under debate. It was hypothesized that acute burn wound excision (in the first 24 hours after burning) would be superior to conservative treatment and delayed excision in preventing bacterial colonization and invasion. Twenty consecutive patients with thermal injuries were studied. Twelve patients underwent acute burn wound excision, and eight patients underwent conservative treatment and delayed excision. The second group of patients received topical treatments in another facility and underwent delayed excision after transfer to our service, on postburn day 6. Quantitative bacteriological assessments of the excised wound and biopsy samples of the wound bed, obtained before autografting and/or homografting, were performed. The effects of time on bacterial counts, differences between superficial and deep biopsy samples, and the effects of early versus late debridement were studied. Patients admitted early exhibited bacterial counts of less than 10 bacteria per gram of tissue. Patients in this group did not experience infection or graft loss. Patients admitted late exhibited counts of more than 10 bacteria (p = 0.001, compared with early admission). Three patients in the late excision group experienced infection and graft loss (p < 0.05, compared with the early excision group). Burn wound excision significantly decreased bacterial colonization for all patients (p < 0.001). Greater bacterial colonization and higher rates of infection were correlated with topical treatment and late excision (p < 0.001). It is concluded that burn wound excision significantly reduces bacterial colonization. Patients who undergo topical treatment and delayed burn wound excision exhibit greater bacterial colonization and increased rates of infection. Acute burn wound excision should be considered for all full-thickness burns.

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