Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) is the most common cardiac surgical procedure in the world and up to one-third of patients are transfused red blood cells (RBCs). RBC transfusion may increase the risk for health care-associated infection (HAI) after CABG, but previous studies have shown conflicting results and many did not establish exposure temporality. Our objective was to explore whether intraoperative RBC transfusion is associated with increased odds of postoperative HAI. We hypothesized that intraoperative RBC transfusion would be associated with increased odds of postoperative HAI.
We performed an observational cohort study of isolated CABG patients in the Society of Thoracic Surgeons adult cardiac surgery database from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2019. The exposure was intraoperative RBC transfusion modeled as 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4+ units. The authors focused on intraoperative RBC transfusion as a risk factor, because it has a definite temporal relationship before postoperative HAI. The study’s primary outcome was a composite HAI variable that included sepsis, pneumonia, and surgical site infection (both deep and superficial). Mixed-effects modeling, which controlled for hospital as a clustering variable, was used to explore the relationship between intraoperative RBC transfusion and postoperative HAI.
Among 362,954 CABG patients from 1076 hospitals included in our analysis, 59,578 patients (16.4%) received intraoperative RBCs and 116,186 (32.0%) received either intraoperative or postoperative RBCs. Risk-adjusted odds ratios for HAI in patients who received 1, 2, 3, and 4+ intraoperative RBCs were 1.11 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.03–1.20; P = .005), 1.13 (95% CI, 1.05–1.21; P = .001), 1.15 (95% CI, 1.04–1.27; P = .008), and 1.14 (95% CI, 1.02–1.27; P = .02) compared to patients who received no RBCs.
Intraoperative RBC transfusion is associated with a small increase in odds of HAI in CABG patients. Future studies should explore whether reductions in RBC transfusion can also reduce HAIs.