A surgical site infection, or SSI, is an infection of a wound you got from surgery. It may develop within the first 30 days after surgery. Oftentimes, SSI occurs 5 to 10 days after surgery. SSI may affect either closed wounds or wounds that were left open to heal. It may affect tissues on any level of your body. Infections may develop in superficial (close to the skin) or deep tissues. In more serious cases, SSI may affect body organ(s).
What causes a surgical site infection?
Surgical site infections are caused by germs, called bacteria. Different types of bacteria may reach the wound and cause infection. The bacteria may come from your skin or from the environment, such as soil, air, or water. They may come from the object that caused your wound or from tools used during the surgery. They may also come from inside the body, where they normally live without doing harm.
What puts me at risk of having a surgical site infection?
The risk of having an SSI depends on different factors. These factors include the following:
Diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and liver, kidney, or lung conditions may slow the healing process. Medical conditions, such as low blood protein may also affect healing.
- Foreign objects:
Dead tissues and foreign objects, such as glass or metal, present in the wound may delay wound healing. SSI may also be likely if you have an infection on another part of the body, or a skin disease.
- Poor blood or oxygen supply:
Blood flow may be affected by high blood pressure, and blocked or narrowed blood vessels. This may be a common problem in people who smoke, or have blood vessel problems or heart conditions. Low oxygen supply may be caused by certain blood, heart, and lung diseases.
- Type of surgery:
Your chances of having SSI is increased when surgery is done on an infected wound. Emergency surgeries on traumatic injuries, and surgeries lasting for 3 hours or longer, also increase your risk. This may also include surgeries done on certain body organs, such as the stomach or intestines (bowels). The risk may be greater if an object pierced through the skin and into an organ. SSI is more likely to occur after an open surgery than surgery using a scope. Having drains or blood transfusion may increase the chances of bacteria reaching the wound and causing infection.
- Weak immune system:
The immune system is the part of the body that fights infection. This may be weakened by radiation, poor nutrition, and certain medicines, such as anti-cancer medicines or steroids. Being overweight, or too young or too old, may also decrease your ability to respond to injury.
What are the signs and symptoms of a surgical site infection?
- A wound that is painful, even though it does not look like it should be.
- High or low body temperature, low blood pressure, or a fast heartbeat.
- Increased discharge (blood or other fluid) or pus coming out of the wound. The discharge or pus may have an odd color or a bad smell.
- Increased swelling that goes past the wound area and does not go away after five days. Swollen areas usually look red, feel painful, and feel warm when you touch them.
About the Author
Attorney Steven Peck has been practicing law since 1981. A former successful business owner, Mr. Peck initially focused his legal career on business law. Within the first three years, after some colleagues and friend’s parents endured nursing home neglect and elder abuse, he continued his education to begin practicing elder law and nursing home abuse law.