Surgical Site Infection (SSI)

What are SSIs?

Surgical site infections occur when harmful germs enter your body through the surgical site (any cut the surgeon makes in the skin to perform the operation). Infections happen because germs are everywhere – on your skin, in the air and on things you touch. Most infections are caused by germs found on and in your body. 

What are the symptoms of SSIs?

  • Increased soreness, pain, or tenderness at the surgical site.
  • A red streak, increased redness, or puffiness near the incision.
  • Greenish-yellow or bad-smelling discharge from the incision.
  • Fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
  • A tired feeling that doesn’t go away
  • Symptoms can appear at any time from hours to weeks after surgery. Implants such as an artificial knee or hip can become infected a year or more after the operation.

What are the risk factors for SSIs?

The risk of acquiring a surgical site infection is higher if you:

  • Are an older adult
  • Have a weakened immune system or other serious health problem such as diabetes
  • Smoke
  • Are malnourished (don’t eat enough healthy foods)
  • Are very overweight
  • Have a wound that is left open instead of closed with sutures

What should health care providers be doing to prevent SSIs?

Health care providers should be taking the following precautions to prevent SSIs:

  • Practicing proper hand-washing techniques. Before the operation, the surgeon and all operating room staff should scrub their hands and arms with an antiseptic soap.
  • Cleaning the site where your incision is made with an antiseptic solution.
  • Wearing medical uniforms (scrub suits), long-sleeved surgical gowns, masks, caps, shoe covers and sterile gloves.
  • Covering the patient with a sterile drape with a hole where the incision is made.
  • Closely watching the patient’s blood sugar levels after surgery to make sure it stays within a normal range. High blood sugar delays the wound from healing.
  • Warming IV fluids, increasing the temperature in the operating room and providing warm-air blankets (if necessary) to ensure a normal body temperature. A lower-than-normal body temperature during or after surgery prevents oxygen from reaching the wound, making it harder for your body to fight infection.