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Surgical Site Infections


What do I need to know about a surgical site infection?

A surgical site infection (SSI) is caused by bacteria and often develops within 30 days after surgery. The infection may be shallow or deep and can affect your organs.

What increases my risk for a SSI?

  • Smoking
  • Dead tissues or foreign objects, such as glass or metal, in your wound
  • Diseases, such as diabetes, heart conditions, or blood vessel problems
  • A weak immune system
  • Older age

What are the signs and symptoms of a SSI?

  • Red, swollen, and painful wound
  • Red streaks coming from your wound
  • Fever
  • Blood, fluid, or pus draining from your wound
  • A bad odor

How is a SSI diagnosed?

  • Blood tests may show the infection and what caused it.
  • A sample of your wound tissue may show what kind of infection you have and helps your healthcare provider plan your treatment.
  • An x-ray, ultrasound, or MRI may show the cause of infection. You may be given contrast liquid to help the wound show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is a SSI treated?

  • Medicines can help fight the infection and decrease pain or swelling.
  • Incision and drainage may be needed to clean out your wound. If you have stitches, they may need to be removed.
  • Debridement may be needed to cut or remove any objects, dead tissues, or damaged areas in or around the wound.
  • Bandages may be used to protect the wound and help it heal. They may contain medicines to help your wound heal. Ask for more information about bandages.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO) may be used to get more oxygen to your tissues to help them heal. The pressurized oxygen is given as you sit in a pressure chamber.
  • Vacuum-assisted closure (VAC) is a medical foam dressing attached to a suction machine. The machine gently cleans your wound and increases blood flow to your wound.

How can I help my wound heal?

  • Care for your wound as directed. Keep your wound clean and dry. You may need to cover your wound when you bathe so it does not get wet. When you are allowed to clean your wound, carefully wash it with soap and water, or as directed. Dry the area and put on new, clean bandages as directed. Change your bandages when they get wet or dirty.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Eating healthy foods may help you heal faster. You may also need to take vitamins and minerals. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage and slow wound healing. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have sudden trouble breathing.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You cannot move the joint near your wound.
  • Blood soaks through your bandage.
  • You have severe pain.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • The inside of your wound is dark red or bright red.
  • You have more swelling, redness, or pain in your wound.
  • You have new drainage or a bad odor coming from your wound.
  • You develop blisters, or your skin starts to peel or change color.
  • The skin around your wound feels numb.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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