Surgical gowns and drapes in the Operation Theater

Irrespective of the nature of the operation, a lot of essential safety measures are taken to avoid Surgical Site Infections (SSI). These measures include everything from sterile draping of the patients, their surroundings and the wearing of sterile clothing by the surgical team. Disposable draping fabrics and operating apparels are rightly regarded as medical products which plays a vital role in the prevention of infections.

During surgery, sterile surgical drapes are used to prevent contact with unprepared surfaces and to preserve the sterility of the surfaces, equipment, and surroundings of the patient. Similarly, during surgical procedures, sterile surgical gowns are worn over the operating team's scrub suit to maintain a sterile surgical field and reduce the risk of pathogens being transmitted to both patients and staff.

Surgical gowns and drapes are made from materials that are either multiple or single-use. Within each of these two broad categories, there is considerable variation in design and performance characteristics, reflecting the necessary trade-offs in economy, comfort, and degree of protection required for specific surgical procedures.

Earlier the garment was made of an all-carded cotton material generally known as muslin. It was considered quite suitable for use in healthcare as it seemed to provide a satisfactory aseptic barrier, was readily available, and was economical to use. However, in 1952 it was brought to the attention of the surgical community that although muslin material was an effective bacteriological barrier when it was dry, it lost its barrier capabilities when it became wet even if multiple layers were used.

The risk of pathogen transmission increases during surgical procedures if the barrier materials become wet. Consequently, the multiple- or single-use materials of the drapes and gowns used in an operation must avoid liquid penetration. Reusable materials are typically made of various tightly-woven textiles and/or knitted cotton, or other fabrics which could be either blended with polyester and/or chemically treated. These products need to maintain their durability and provide protection even after many cycles of processing and treatment. Disposable surgical drapes and gowns typically consist of synthetic and/or natural non-woven fabrics, likely combined with chemical treatment.

Key requirements expected of surgical drapes and gowns:

Provide an infection barrier : The primary purpose of using drapes and gowns during surgery is to prevent SSIs. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that they should be resistant to liquid penetration and be impervious to strikethrough during surgery. They also must be resistant to microbial penetration, both dry and wet.

Cleanliness : Surgical drapes and gowns should provide cleanliness at the microbial level as persistent microbial contamination of hospital surfaces leads to the onset of Healthcare - associated infections (HAIs), which is a source for hospital pathogens. They need to remain free of contamination from particulate matter and linting.

Strength : Both drapes and gowns should be strong enough to remain intact and continue to provide much-needed protection to the patient, surgical staff, and surgeons during surgeries even if arduous maneuvers are involved.