Infected caesarean wounds can present major problems for new mothers. As well as causing physical pain, they often require a return to hospital, disrupting family bonding and causing emotional distress at a particularly sensitive time.
Our cross-discipline research team has developed a method that could identify these infections before they become a problem. It uses thermal imaging cameras to spot early signs of infection, so that clinicians can see whether patients are at risk before they leave hospital.
In fact, we believe thermal images could show signs of potential infection just 48 hours after surgery.
Early warning signs
Caesarean wound infections usually develop after the woman has been discharged from hospital. But by using the thermal imaging technique, clinicians could better monitor patients at the bedside immediately after surgery, allowing them to identify potential problems even when the patient's stay in hospital is short. Since short stays are common, this could be an important step forwards.
For patients, the technique causes very little disruption, with clinicians able to capture effective images from as much as a metre away. Our team is also working on machine learning processes that could increase the speed and consistency of thermal image analysis.
The study could even contribute towards a general reduction in antibiotic prescribing, by helping to identify the patients who are in greatest need of antibiotics. That knowledge will help rationalise prescribing, therefore preventing the overprescribing and sometimes unnecessary use of these precious drugs.
While our trials have focused on caesarean procedures, we believe the technique could also be applied to patients undergoing other types of surgery. Surgical wound infections are the third most frequent healthcare-associated infection, imposing a significant burden on NHS resources.
We are also planning to open up the research to explore the effects of obesity on wound healing in a range of surgical specialties.
This project has won the Journal of Wound Care award for Innovation in Surgical Site Infection and Best Clinical Research. It has also been shortlisted for Research Project of the Year: STEM in the Times Higher Education Awards.