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Surgical Services Health Information

Learn more about the various surgeries including what you need to know before having surgery, planning for a surgery, and post surgery care.

How to Decrease the Chance of a Surgical Site Infection

Surgical site infections are caused by bacteria. Different types of bacteria may reach the wound and cause infection. Surgical site infections cam be prevented by controlling risk factors whenever possible.

Prior to Surgery
Most patients who have surgery recover with no problems. However, there are times when a patient may develop an infection on the body involving the area where the surgery was performed. This is called a surgical site infection.

You can take steps to help reduce the chances of an infection after surgery:

  • Meet with your doctor prior to surgery to discuss your past medical history. Bring a list of all medications that you are currently taking.
  • If you are a smoker, try to stop smoking as soon as you know you need surgery. Research shows that nicotine in the body keeps surgical wounds from healing well. People who have not smoked for 30 days before surgery have the best results. If your surgery is scheduled the last minute, not smoking the day of surgery will have some benefit for reducing the risk of infection.
  • Diabetic patients should make sure their blood sugar is well controlled, especially the day before surgery and for two days afterwards. Blood sugar levels above 200 mg/dL can prevent white blood cells from working properly. White blood cells help the body fight off infection. If you suspect that you may be diabetic but have not been tested, check with your family doctor before your surgery to see if you can be tested for diabetes.
  • Eat a well balanced diet before and after surgery. Proper nutrition helps improve the immune system’s ability to prevent infection. Contact a dietician prior to surgery if you need help with your diet.
  • If you are overweight, work on losing weight while eating a healthy diet before your procedure. Patients who are obese body mass index (BMI) over 30) are at a higher risk for surgical site infections than patients with a BMI less than 30.

Day of Surgery

  • Avoid using a razor to shave any part of your body near the surgery area 48 hours before surgery.  Shaving with a razor causes very small nicks and cuts in the skin. This allows germs to get into the body easily. These germs can then cause an infection. Any hair removal that needs to be done before you surgery will be performed right before the surgery takes place with the use of clippers, which, unlike razors, do not create nicks and cuts in the skin’s surface.
  • Use an antimicrobial soap for bathing/showering both the night before and the morning of the surgery.  Studies have shown that these two baths/showers are very good at helping to reduce the amount of germs present on the body. Some experts believe that the best product to use for washing the body prior to surgery is Hibiclens, which can be purchased over the counter at a pharmacy. Follow the instructions on the product carefully.
  • On the day of surgery, make sure you stay warm at all times. It has been shown that keeping the body at temperatures above 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit right before surgery, during, and right after surgery is very important to help the blood flow in the body. This helps prevent the development of infection. When coming in for surgery from the outside, it is a good idea to keep the car very warm and wear plenty of clothing, especially in the winter. If you are cold while waiting for your surgery to start, ask the staff for a blanket. Once your surgery begins, the surgical team will work to help keep you warm during the procedure and while you are in the recovery area.
  • Ask to see your surgeon before your surgery takes place. Ask the surgeon if an antibiotic will be given to you before surgery to help reduce the chances for infection. Most surgical patents, but not all, receive this medication. This is the time to talk about any last minute questions.
  • To help protect yourself from an infection, watch everyone who cares for you to make sure they wash their hands before touching you. Staff members will clean their hands by either using an alcohol foam/gel product or by using soap and water. Please speak up and ask the caregiver to wash his/her hands in front of you if you do not see this happen. Hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of germs.

After Surgery

You may be asked to do breathing exercises using a piece of equipment called an incentive spirometer. It is important to do these breathing exercises correctly and as often as directed. This may seem difficult at first, but it is one of the best ways to help prevent the development of pneumonia after surgery.

It is important to keep your surgical wound site clean and dry. Do not take off the bandages to look at your wound until you are directed to by your doctor. If you or your caregiver is instructed to change the surgical wound bandages, follow all directions exactly as given. Make sure you wash your hands before and after changing the bandage.

When you care for your wound, look closely for signs and symptoms that may indicate infection or other problems, such as:

  • Increase in redness or discoloration of wound site
  • Increase in pain at area of incision
  • Severe swelling of the area
  • Surgical wound is very warm or hot when touched
  • An increase in fluid that is draining from the wound
  • Foul odor coming from the wound

Please notify your surgeon if you have any of the above conditions or if you have a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or above. This may indicate further treatment is needed.

This patient education document was created using the MICROMEDEX ® System and may contain MICROMEDEX proprietary information. © 1974-2010 Thomson Reuters.  All rights reserved.

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