Monday, February 13, 2012 - Mark Humph
While Florida fire authorities probe the cause of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber explosion that killed one horse and one woman and injured another woman, an equine veterinarian who founded a hyberbaric-oxygen-therapy-focused veterinary society said practitioners strive to minimize risk associated with the technology.
According to published reports, on Feb. 10, a hyperbaric oxygen chamber exploded at the Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center (KESMARC) in Ocala, Fla., when a horse inside the chamber began kicking. The horse and a woman were killed in the incident. Another woman sustained injuries, the reports said. Marion County, Fla., fire rescue officials are investigating the cause of the incident. A representative from KESMARC Florida was unavailable for comment.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) involves treating a patient with 100% oxygen under pressure; veterinarians have explained the process increases oxygen levels in blood plasma and promotes higher delivery to all body tissues, including the injured area, to facilitate healing. In horses HBOT is used to treat a range of conditions and acute injuries, including deep wounds, joint injuries, and infections. Horses treated with HBOT are placed in chambers that are approximately 10 to 12 feet in diameter.
Dennis Geiser, DVM, Dipl. AVBP, associate professor in the Large Animal Clinical Sciences department at the University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine and founder of the Veterinary Hyperbaric Medical Society, declined to comment specifically about the KESMARC Florida incident. But he said that HBOT chambers used in the United States are manufactured according to specific safety standards, and that practitioners take precautions to ensure horses' safety during treatment.
The cause of the explosion is unknown and currently under investigation.
Geiser said that while the oxygen itself is unlikely to ignite, oxygen under pressure could be ignited in the presence of a spark.
"So we don't put shod horses in the chamber," Geiser said of his approach to safety. "We take the shoes off if we can, or we put boots on the horse or otherwise cover its feet."
In addition, he said rubber material about halfway up the interior walls of some chambers to further minimize spark risk, he said. Geiser declined to speculate on whether the KESMARC Florida chamber contained the rubber wall material.
Geiser said that the majority of hyperbaric oxygen chambers are manufactured by Veterinary Hyperbaric Oxygen, a Lexington, Ky.-based company. No one from the firm was available to comment on the KESMARC incident.
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