[Wearing surgical masks in the operation theatre: yes or no?].



Consecutive patients undergoing surgery during the first COVID-19 wave (2-3-2020 until 11-05-2020) were compared with patients undergoing surgery in the same period a year earlier. Patients undergoing surgery for soft-tissue malignancies were included. Intra-abdominal surgery was excluded. Primary outcome measurement was wound infection rate within 30 days following surgery. Secondary, a cost reduction analysis was made.


In the COVID-19 wave, a total of 219 patients underwent surgery for soft-tissue malignancies, compared to 241 a year earlier. The incidence of postoperative wound infection was 58/460 (12.6%) for the total cohort. There was no difference in infection rate between the COVID-19 period and the same period in 2019; 25/219 (11,4%; 95% CI: 7,8-16,4)) vs. 33/241 (13,7%; 95% CI: 9,8-18,6), p = 0,46) respectively. During the COVID-19 wave, a total of 6.400 of surgical masks were used by the personnel in the operation theatre complex, compared to a total of 11.000 in the same period in 2019. This resulted in a reduction of 42% in usage of surgical masks.


Based on this mono-centric, explorative retrospective cohort study, it seems that omitting the surgical mask for the non-sterile operation theatre personnel does not influence the postoperative wound infection rate. Despite the fact that our sample size is small, the impressive reduction in usage of 42% demands further research initiatives on a larger scale.


Retrospective cohort study.


In the Netherlands, the surgical mask is part of the standard surgical attire even for the non-sterile personnel in the operation theatre. Solid evidence on the effect on postoperative infection rates is missing. Due to a national scarcity in surgical masks during the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis the usage of these masks was decreased. In our tertiary referral centre for Surgical Oncology, this led to the decision that, for a period of ten weeks, the surgical masks were only being used by the sterile surgical team and not by non-sterile operation theatre personnel. This retrospective study evaluates the influence of this intervention in terms of postoperative wound infection rates.

More about this publication

Nederlands tijdschrift voor geneeskunde
  • Volume 165
  • Publication date 12-05-2021

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