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Your skin is a natural barrier against infection, but what if that barrier breaks? Any surgery that causes a break in the skin can lead to a possible infection despite the precautions and protocols to prevent infections. These infections are commonly known as surgical site infections (SSIs) because they occur on the part of the body where the surgery took place. Infections may be caused by endogenous (e.g., bacteria on the patient’s skin) or exogenous sources (e.g., personnel, the environment or materials used for surgery). The chances of developing an SSI are about 1% to 3% – but what happens if you do develop an SSI?

Developing an Infection

SSIs typically develop within 30 days after surgery. Surgical wounds can become infected by germs in more ways than one. First, germs that are already on your skin may spread to the wound and infect it. The germs inside your body or from the organ on which the surgery was performed may also infect the wound. Last, germs in the environment around you may also infect the wound.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe three types of SSIs: superficial incisional, deep incisional, and organ or space. Superficial incisional SSIs occur just in the area of the skin where the initial incision was made. Deep incisional SSIs occur beneath the incision area. These typically develop in the muscles and the surrounding tissue. Organ or space SSIs typically develop in a body organ or a space between organs.

You are more at risk for a surgical wound infection if you have diabetes, a poor immune system, or overweight. Other factors such as drinking and smoking may also have an influence in the infection of the wound.

Treating an Infection

Antibiotics are used to treat most wound infections but sometimes surgery is needed. You may be started on antibiotics to treat the surgical wound infection. Be sure to follow your doctor’s orders when taking any medication. If the antibiotic is not working, a surgeon may recommend doing a procedure to clean the wound.

Caring for an Infection

It is important to listen to your doctor’s recommendations when caring for an infection at home. It is recommended that you clean the infected wound. When used on wounds, Dakin’s solution can be poured directly onto the affected area as an irrigation or cleanser. It may also be used to wet certain types of wound dressings.

While your infection heals, it’s important to consider outside factors that may affect the healing of your wound. Age, nutrition and obesity are just a few factors that may play a role in the healing process.

During the wound healing process, be sure to check the color of your wound as this can help determine what stage of the healing process your wound is in. While shading may vary, wound colors that are important to note typically fall into four categories: red, pink, yellow, and black.

Preventing an Infection

You may not always be able to prevent an infection, but you can take necessary precautions to do your best. Check out our Surgery Patient Preparation Guide to ensure the success of an upcoming surgery and the timeliness of your surgery. Throughout the entire process it’s important to follow your doctor’s orders and use these tips as a basic guideline.