Supportive Advocacy When It Matters Most

How patients and hospitals can prevent surgical site infections

A surgical site infection is a common type of hospital-acquired infection. This means that you contracted it at the hospital while you were receiving treatment. Incising the skin to perform surgery makes you vulnerable to bacteria, and the risk of a surgical site infection increases if hospital personnel failed to properly sterilize equipment or wash their hands prior to surgery.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of a surgical site infection include fever, drainage from the wound and pain or redness at the site of your surgery. There are things that you, as a patient, can do to protect yourself from infection at the surgical site. There are also steps that hospital personnel should take to protect you.

What can you do to prevent surgical site infection?

It is often necessary to remove hair from the surgical site prior to the operation. However, shaving with a razor increases the risk of infection. Do not use a razor to shave the site prior to surgery and ask questions if someone else tries to do it at the hospital.

Tell your doctor about any medical problems you have prior to surgery as some of these can affect healing. You can decrease your risk of infection by quitting smoking prior to the surgery. After the procedure, learn how to change your dressings and make sure your hands are clean before touching the site.

What steps do hospitals take to prevent SSI?

There are thousands of bacteria living on the skin. As part of the preoperative preparation, the surgical team should clean the skin of the site to remove germs and scrub their own hands with an antiseptic agent. They may give you antibiotics prior to surgery to prevent infection, but this is not always medically necessary. If it is necessary to remove hair from the site prior to surgery, they should do so using electric clippers rather than a razor.

While it may be possible to treat a surgical site infection with antibiotics, you may have to undergo a second operation to resolve the symptoms.