A mathematical model of the use of supplemental oxygen to combat surgical site infection

Chathranee Jayathilake, Philip K. Maini, Harriet W. Hopf, D. L. Sean McElwain, Helen M. Byrne, Mark B. Flegg, Jennifer A. Flegg

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Infections are a common complication of any surgery, often requiring a recovery period in hospital. Supplemental oxygen therapy administered during and immediately after surgery is thought to enhance the immune response to bacterial contamination. However, aerobic bacteria thrive in oxygen-rich environments, and so it is unclear whether oxygen has a net positive effect on recovery. Here, we develop a mathematical model of post-surgery infection to investigate the efficacy of supplemental oxygen therapy on surgical-site infections. A 4-species, coupled, set of non-linear partial differential equations that describes the space-time dependence of neutrophils, bacteria, chemoattractant and oxygen is developed and analysed to determine its underlying properties. Through numerical solutions, we quantify the efficacy of different supplemental oxygen regimes on the treatment of surgical site infections in wounds of different initial bacterial load. A sensitivity analysis is performed to investigate the robustness of the predictions to changes in the model parameters. The numerical results are in good agreement with analyses of the associated well-mixed model. Our model findings provide insight into how the nature of the contaminant and its initial density influence bacterial infection dynamics in the surgical wound.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-23
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2019


  • Numerical simulation
  • Partial differential equations
  • Surgical site infections
  • Wound healing

Cite this

Jayathilake, C., Maini, P. K., Hopf, H. W., Sean McElwain, D. L., Byrne, H. M., Flegg, M. B., & Flegg, J. A. (2019). A mathematical model of the use of supplemental oxygen to combat surgical site infection. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 466, 11-23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtbi.2019.01.021