Navigate Up

Preventing Infections After Surgery

What is a Surgical Site Infection (SSI)?

A surgical site infection is an infection that occurs after surgery in the part of the body where the surgery took place.  Most patients who have surgery do not develop an infection.  Some of the common symptoms of a surgical site infection are:

  • Redness and pain around the area where you had surgery
  • Drainage of cloudy fluid from your surgical wound
  • Fever

Can SSI’s be Treated? 

Yes. Most surgical site infections can be treated with antibiotics.  The antibiotic given to you depends on the bacteria (germs) causing the infection. Sometimes patients with SSIs also need another surgery to treat the infection.

What Can be Done to Prevent SSIs?

To prevent SSI’s doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers:

  • Clean their hands and arms up to the elbows with an antiseptic agent just before the surgery
  • Clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after caring for each patient.
  • May remove hair immediately before your surgery using electric clippers (not a razor) if the hair is in the same area where the procedure will occur.
  • Wear special hair covers, masks, gowns, and gloves during surgery to keep the surgery area clean.
  • Give you antibiotics before your surgery starts.  In most cases, you should get antibiotics within 60 minutes before the surgery starts and the antibiotics should be stopped within 24 hours after surgery.
  • Clean the skin at the site of your surgery with a special soap that kills germs.

What Can You Do to Help Prevent an SSI? 

  • Tell your doctor about other medical problems you may have. Health problems such as allergies, diabetes and obesity could affect your surgery and your treatment.
  • Quit smoking.  Patients who smoke get more infections. Talk to your doctor about how you can quit before your surgery.
  • Do not shave near the area where you will have surgery. Shaving with a razor can irritate the skin and make it easier to develop an infection.
  • Take a shower or bath with an antibacterial soap, such as Dial or Hibiclens. Do this either the night before or morning of surgery or as directed by your surgeon.

After Your Surgery:

  • Make sure that your healthcare providers clean their hands before examining you either with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. If you do not see your healthcare providers clean their hands, please ask them to do so.
  • Family and friends who visit you should not touch the surgical wound or dressings.
  • Family and friends should clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after visiting you.  If you do not see them clean their hands, ask them to clean their hands.

What Should You Do When You Go Home?

  • Before you go home, your doctor or nurse will explain everything you need to know about taking care of your wound.  Make sure you understand how to care for your wound before you leave the hospital.
  • Always clean your hands before and after caring for your wound.
  • If you have any symptoms of an infection, such as redness and pain at the surgery site, drainage, or fever, call your doctor immediately.
  • If you have additional questions, please ask your doctor or nurse.

Adapted from the CDC’s:  “FAQs (frequently asked questions) about ‘Surgical Site Infections.’”

Reviewed August 2012

©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com