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Surgical Site Infections

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a Surgical Site Infection (SSI)?
    A surgical site infection is an infection that happens after surgery in the part of the body where your surgery took place.
  • How common is an SSI?
    Most patients do not get infections, but one to three out of every 100 patients get an infection after having a surgery.
  • What are some common symptoms of an SSI?
    • Redness and pain around the area where you had surgery
    • Cloudy fluid that drains from your surgical wound
    • Fever
  • Can an SSI be treated?
    Most SSIs can be treated with antibiotics, but sometimes patients with an SSI need another surgery to treat the infection.
  • What does the hospital do to prevent SSIs?
    ​Your doctors, nurses and other health-care providers take these steps to prevent an SSI:
    • Clean their hands and arms up to their elbows with an antiseptic agent before starting the surgery
    • Clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after caring for patients
    • May remove some of your hair before surgery with electric clippers if the hair is in the same area where surgery will occur.
    • Wear special hair covers, masks, gowns and gloves during surgery to keep the surgical area clean
    • May give you antibiotics to start taking 60 minutes before surgery and to stop taking 24 hours after surgery
    • Clean the surgery site with a special germ-killing soap
  • What can I do to help prevent an SSI?
    ​Before your surgery:
  • Tell your doctor about any health problems you may have. Allergies, diabetes and obesity may affect your surgery and treatment.
  • Quit smoking. Patients who smoke may get more infections. Talk to your doctor about how to quit.
  • Do not shave near your surgery site. Shaving with a razor can bother your skin and make it easier to get an infection.

    ​At the time of your surgery:
    • Speak up if someone tries to shave you with a razor before surgery. Ask why you need to be shaved with a razor and speak with your doctor if you have any concerns.
    • Ask if you will be given antibiotics before surgery.

After your surgery:

  • Make sure your health-care providers clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before they examine you. If you do not see your care team clean their hands, please ask them to do so. 
  • Family and friends should not touch your surgical wound or dressings.
  • Family and friends should clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after they visit you. If you do not see them cleaning their hands, please ask them to do so.
  • What do I need to do when I go home from the hospital?
    • Your doctor and nurse will explain what you need to know about your wound care before you leave the hospital.
    • Please make sure you understand how to care for your wound.
    • Clean your hands before and after caring for your wound.
    • Before you leave the hospital, make sure you know whom to call for questions and concerns after you get home.
    • If you have any symptoms of infection (redness and pain at the surgery site, drainage or fever), call your doctor right away.

For more information about surgical site infections, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at CDC.gov.
This information was adapted from the CDC’s Surgical Site Infections Frequently Asked Questions.

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