An investigation of the bacterial contamination of small animal breathing systems during routine use


Ludovic Pelligand, Anaesthesia Service, Queen Mother Hospital, The Royal Veterinary College, Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms, Hatfield AL9 7TA, Hertfordshire, UK. E-mail:


Objective  To investigate the need for sterilization of anaesthetic breathing systems to prevent cross-infection between animals due to the re-use of anaesthetic circuit tubing.

Study design  Prospective microbiological study.

Methods  Bacteriology samples were taken from 37 sterile breathing systems, each used for 1 day, at two sampling sites (one proximal and one distal to the animal). The number of patient connections, cumulative anaesthesia time, culture results, number of colony-forming units and the number of different species were recorded. Secondly, four sterile breathing systems were used for 2 months under routine conditions and sampled every 2 weeks and the same parameters recorded. Finally, the inner surfaces of four sterile breathing systems were inoculated with a known load of canine oropharyngeal bacteria. Bacteriology samples were taken at 1 minute, 1 hour and 1 day post-deposition. The number of colonies identified was compared with the initial load.

Results  Only a very small number of micro-organisms were isolated and these were generally organisms of low pathogenic potential. The proximal site was found to be significantly more colonized than the distal site (p < 0.001). Neither longer daily connection time (p = 0.54), nor a higher number of connections (p = 0.81) increased the incidence of proximal site colonization. Over the 2-month study period, the bacterial population did not increase. There was no correlation between cultures isolated from successive samples taken from the same tubing. There was rapid loss of viability of the micro-organisms deliberately inoculated onto the tubing surface: the number of colonies isolated from the breathing system after 1 minute was significantly lower than in the inoculum (p = 0.042).

Conclusions and clinical relevance  Sterile anaesthesia breathing systems were colonized by environmental micro-organisms of low pathogenicity. Although long-term survival of recognized pathogens in a dry environment is still possible, the use of a bacterial filter or a sterilized breathing system for routine veterinary anaesthesia cannot be supported by current evidence.