Prevention of infection is a paramount concern after open fracture of the tibia. Previous studies have shown that delay in soft-tissue coverage may raise infection rates. Use of vacuum-assisted closure devices in open fracture wounds has become common. The authors analyzed whether use of the vacuum-assisted closure sponge can allow delay of flap coverage for open tibia fractures without an increase in infection rate.

The authors identified 38 patients with Gustilo grade IIIB open fractures from their trauma registry with a minimum 1-year follow-up. From the medical record, the authors collected information on the time from injury to definitive wound coverage, type of fixation, type of coverage, and demographics. Infected patients were defined as patients that required surgical debridement after coverage with positive cultures.

Patients who underwent definitive coverage within 7 days had a significantly decreased rate of infection (12.5 percent) compared with patients who had coverage at 7 days or more after injury (57 percent) (p < 0.008). The overall infection rate was 36 percent with routine use of the vacuum-assisted closure sponge. Patients who developed infection had a greater mean time to coverage than patients who did not develop infection (8.9 days versus 4.8 days; p < 0.029).

Routine use of vacuum-assisted closure with open tibia fractures is safe and provides a good primary dressing over open wounds. For Gustilo grade IIIB tibia fractures, vacuum-assisted closure therapy does not allow delay of soft-tissue coverage past 7 days without a concomitant elevation in infection rates.