With any type of surgery comes the risk of complications, including infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, three out of every 100 patients will develop an infection at the location on the body where was performed.
Typically, the skin protects the body from infection but when the skin is cut during surgery, the area is exposed to germs and bacteria. Microorganisms can infect the incision through various forms of contact, including the touch of a contaminated nurse, doctor, or surgical instrument, as well as microorganisms in the air or those already on or in a patient’s body that spread into the wound.
Many infections are preventable and hospitals are required to have procedures in place to keep them at a minimum. Yet surgical site infections do occur and can be caused by:
- Failing to follow cleaning procedures.
- Performing surgery too quickly.
- Improperly closing a wound.
- Poor wound-care management.
- Inadequate training of hospital staff.
Because they are preventable, a surgical site infection could be the result of medical malpractice, which means that the doctors, hospital, and other health-care workers may be held liable for resulting complications, injuries, and damages.
The Risk of Infection
There are different types of surgical site infections. Superficial incisional infections can be treated easily with antibiotics. Others, like deep incisional infections, are more serious and can lead to major complications, more surgery, and even death.
Numerous factors can increase a patient’s risk of a surgical site infection, including:
- Having surgery that lasts longer than two hours.
- Having other medical problems or diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and an already-weakened immune system.
- Being elderly.
- Being overweight.
- Emergency surgery.
- Abdominal surgery.
Before having a procedure, patients should ask what they can do to reduce their risk of infection. For example, smokers should stop smoking prior to an operation. It is also suggested that patients not shave the surgical area. If a doctor has instructed that an area be shaved pre-surgery, ask why, and also inquire about whether antibiotics will be prescribed before the procedure.
After surgery, patients should make sure that family, friends, visitors, and health-care workers clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based disinfectant before entering their room.
Signs and Treatment
The signs of a surgical site infection are:
- Redness, pain, tenderness, warmth, or swelling around the incisions area.
- Drainage of cloudy fluid (pus) from the wound.
- Delayed healing.
While most infections can be successfully treated with antibiotics, sometimes a second surgery is required to address the infection. Only in the most extreme cases is a surgical site infection deadly.