Unexpected Complications: The Phenomenon of Healthcare-Associated Infections Part II: Surgical Site Infections



Millions of Americans undergo surgery annually, and though the process has become significantly less risky over the past half century, concerns regarding everything from anesthetic to blood clots abound among patients. Infections are one such concern, seeing as the skin, a natural barrier to infection, is opened during surgery.[1] Though there are many kinds of healthcare-associated infections, as explained in the previous post, surgical site infection (SSI) reduction has been identified specifically as a top national priority in the US Department of Health and Human Services.[2] In order to better understand clients who have suffered from SSIs or medical professionals who have been blamed with their cause, here are some specifics:


What are SSIs?

Surgical site infections are infections occurring after surgery in the part of the body where the surgery took place.[3] Some of the most common healthcare-associated infections, SSIs develop in about 1 to 3 out of every 100 patients who undergo surgery.[4] The incision itself can become red and painful, cloudy fluid may drain from the wound, and the patient may contract a fever.[5] SSIs can be superficial, involving the skin only, or might become more serious, involving tissues under the skin, organs, or implanted material.[6]


How are SSIs treated?

Antibiotics are the most frequent cure for surgical site infections. However, for more serious SSIs, an additional surgery may be necessary.[7]


How can SSIs be prevented?

            Basic hygiene is an obvious prevention method – doctors and nurses should clean their hands and arms up to their elbows with antiseptic agent just before surgery, carefully clean the skin at the surgical site, and wear proper hair covers, masks, and gloves – but there are things the patient can do to prevent infection from surgery as well.[8] Patients should make sure their surgeon knows of medical problems they have, such as allergies, diabetes, and obesity, since these conditions could affect surgery and treatment.[9] Additionally, patients should be sure to take the prescribed antibiotics they are given before the surgery. If there is hair at the site of the surgery, patients can check to make sure that medical professionals use electric clippers to remove hair as opposed to shaving them with razors, as razors can increase the chance of infection.[10]


Beyond these basic prevention measures for SSIs, prevention of healthcare-associated infections in general is the focus of many nationwide hospital improvement campaigns. In the final article in this series, these campaigns and policies will take center stage, and their success will be discussed.

[1] Whitlock, Jennifer, “Understanding the Risks Involved When Having Surgery,” Verywell.com, June 23 2016, https://www.verywell.com/understanding-the-risks-involved-when-having-surgery-3156959

[2] “Surgical Site Infection,” Institute for Healthcare Improvement, n.d., http://www.ihi.org/topics/ssi/pages/default.aspx

[3] “Frequently Asked Questions about Surgical Site Infection,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d., https://www.cdc.gov/HAI/pdfs/ssi/SSI_tagged.pdf

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] “Healthcare-associated Infections: Surgical Site Infection (SSI),” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 17 2012, https://www.cdc.gov/hai/ssi/ssi.html

[7] “Frequently Asked Questions”

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Ibid