Preventing Surgical Site Infection

What is a surgical site infection?

A surgical site infection is an infection that occurs after surgery at the location where the surgery took place. Infections can be superficial (involving the skin only), or they can be deeper and involve the organs or deep tissues surrounding the surgical site.

If you have any of the symptoms below, call your surgeon right away:

Signs of a wound infection

  • Fever of 101° or greater
  • Wound is becoming more red or swollen than it originally was
  • The wound or the area around it is hot to the touch
  • Drainage is increasing and smells bad or there is pus present

Signs of a serious infection

Sometimes, a wound infection can worsen and spread through the rest of your body. If you think your wound is infected and you develop any of the following symptoms, follow up with your surgeon immediately:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Feeling dizzy or faint when you stand up
  • A fever of 102° or higher

Preventing surgical site infections

How can I prevent a surgical site infection before surgery?

  • Quit smoking. Patients who smoke are more likely to get a surgical site infection.
  • Do not shave near the surgical site. If hair removal is required for surgery, a member of the healthcare team will do that on the day of surgery for you with clippers rather than a razor.
  • Keep your glucose under control. If you have diabetes, carefully monitor your blood glucose levels before surgery and while you recover. High glucose levels slow healing and contribute to surgical site infections. In general, if your blood sugar runs higher than 180 two hours after eating, you could be more at risk for an infection. If this is the case, talk to your PCP about getting better control of your diabetes prior to surgery. If needed, a POSH specialist will also talk with you about a plan to get better glucose control before having surgery.

How can I prevent a surgical site infection after surgery?

  • Be your own advocate. If you do not see doctors, providers, nurses, and caregivers clean their hands before they examine you, please ask them to do so. Likewise, family and friends should clean their hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub before and after visiting you.
  • Wash your hands. Before caring for your surgical wound, you should wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and ask caregivers to do the same.
  • Keep your wound clean. Unless you have been told otherwise, wash with mild soap and water daily, and pat dry. Apply clean dressings according to your discharge instructions.