What are surgical site infections?
A surgical site infection (SSI) is an infection that occurs after surgery in the part of the body where the surgery took place. Surgical site infections can sometimes be superficial infections involving the skin only. Other surgical site infections are more serious and can involve tissues under the skin, organs, or implanted material.
What are possible causes and risk factors of surgical site infections?
The most common germs causing SSIs are the bacteria Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Pseudomonas. Germs can infect a surgical wound through various forms of contact, such as from the touch of a contaminated person or surgical instrument, through germs in the air, or through germs that are already on or in the body and then spread into the wound.
How long after surgery is there a risk of infection?
A surgical wound infection can develop any time from two to three days after surgery until the wound has visibly healed (usually two to three weeks after the operation). Very occasionally, an infection can occur several months after an operation.
How are surgical site infections treated?
Most surgical site infections can be treated with antibiotics. The antibiotic depends on the bacteria causing the infection. Sometimes patients with SSIs also need another surgery to treat the infection.
Why should antibiotics be used before surgery, but not afterwards?
There is evidence showing that antibiotics given at a set time before surgery will usually prevent infections (prophylaxis). However, there is no evidence that using antibiotics for prophylaxis after surgery prevents infection in any way. In fact, it may even be harmful by contributing to the development of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics should only be used after surgery to treat infections, not to prevent them.
How important is hand hygiene in the context of SSI prevention?
To prevent SSIs, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers should clean their hands and arms up to their elbows with an antiseptic agent just before the surgery and clean their hands with alcohol-based hand rub before and after caring for each patient.
What should patients consider before surgery?
Patients should ask the doctor what they can do to reduce their risk for a surgical site infection. The most important things are to stop smoking and to avoid shaving in the skin area that the surgeon is planning to operate through. The surgical team should be informed about the medical history, especially if the patient has diabetes or another chronic illness.
How can patients help to prevent a surgical site infection after surgery?
After surgery the patient should follow the doctor’s instructions about wound care. If the patient develops a fever or pus, redness, heat, pain or tenderness near the wound or any other signs or symptoms he/she should inform the doctor immediately.
Patients should make sure that doctors, nurses, friends and family members disinfect their hands before and after they enter the room.