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About half a million people every year just in the United States develop serious complications when surgical incision sites become infected.
The skin is the body's natural barrier against infection. Anything that breaks the skin can lead to an infection of the tissues beneath it. When an infection occurs on a site where an operation took place, doctors refer to the resulting tissue as a surgical site infection or SSI.
Post-operative infections occur after about 3% of surgeries in the USA. About 5% of hospital patients acquire a treatable nosocomial infection during their hospital stay. Altogether about 1.7 million Americans per year catch infections while hospitalized, and 99,000 die of those infections. Patients and their insurance companies pay an addition $28 billion to $45 billion per year, just in the United States, for treatment of hospital-related infections.
How Can You Recognize a Surgical Site Infection?
Additionally, SSI's can manifest themselves as:
- Wounds that just don't "look right."
- High body temperature.
- Rapid pulse combined with low blood pressure.
- Discharge of clear fluid, pus, or blood from the wound. These discharges may smell bad.
- Swelling beyond the incision site that does not go down even after 5 days.
- Failure of the wound to close after weeks or even months.
Especially in the very young and the very old, symptoms may be subtle. The blood pressure may fluctuate, high, low, and normal. There may be an inexplicable fussiness in infants or crankiness in seniors. The patient may snore more than usual. There can be loss of appetite, chills, moderate to severe fatigue, and unusual, vague aches and pains.
What Should You Do If You See Symptoms of a Surgical Site Infection?
Surgical site infections (SSI's) are not something you should treat on your own. Especially since some of the microorganisms that enter wounds during or after surgery can cause pneumonia, blood poisoning, gangrene, or sepsis, it is important to see a doctor right away when symptoms of SSI appear.
It usually takes a doctor to determine whether the infectious microorganism is a bacterium, a fungus, a virus, or a parasite, and the doctor may be aware of other cases in the hospital that make identifying the offending pathogen easier. Only the doctor can determine the right medication (antibiotics will not always work), and it is important to take the entire course of treatment so an even more virulent strain of the infection won't take over.