Hospitals have been urged to buy longer gowns for surgeons to wear while operating, after a study found their theatre gumboots were commonly stained inside with blood splashed from patients.
The gap between the top of the gumboots and the bottom of the gown is said to pose a risk of surgeons becoming infected with serious viral diseases such as hepatitis B and C and HIV.
The study of surgical gumboots, done at Christchurch Public Hospital and reported in yesterday's online New Zealand Medical Journal, found that 59 per cent of the 94 pairs of gumboots checked had blood stains on the lining. "Surgeons and those working alongside them in operating theatres are constantly being potentially exposed to the small but tangible risk of infection through contact with infected blood," the researchers, trainee intern Mike Clarke and vascular surgeon David Lewis, said in the journal.
This was mitigated by the use of protective gowns, gloves, eyewear and footwear, but the boot-gown gap posed a potential risk if infected blood reached broken skin on the surgeon's legs or feet.
The authors said hepatitis B immunisation protected at least 85 per cent of recipients.
The risk of health workers becoming infected with HIV through their work was low - it was estimated at 0.3 per cent following needle-puncture exposure to infected blood, and nil following contact with intact skin.
But the hepatitis C risk was greater. "The risk of acquiring hepatitis C virus has been estimated at 1.5 to 3 per cent after contact with infected blood. There is no immunisation or post-exposure prophylaxis for hepatitis C virus in New Zealand."
The researchers said viral markers of hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus and HIV remained in dried blood that had been at room temperature for up to five weeks, which had implications for blood stains in surgical gumboots.
The authors said longer gowns were probably the most practical way to deal with the problem, but tighter-fitting boots were another option.