We’re not talking about social security income. We’re talking about a surgical site infection.

Many people have surgery without any problems at all. Other people spend months and weeks in a nursing home or an assisted living facility hooked up to an intravenous drip containing heavy-duty antibiotics to control and eliminate an infection.

Infections of surgical sites are serious — sometimes, they are life-threatening.


Here are 11 steps you can take to lower your risk of infection.

These steps start in your own home.

  1. Take care of yourself in the weeks and months before surgery. Eat nutritious food, get eight hours of sleep each night, and exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.
  2. Check out the infection rate at the hospital or clinic where your surgery will be performed. You can find this type of information at https://www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare or https://www.consumerreports.org/health/hospitals/ratings. There are other hospital grading systems that you can check as well.
  3. Reschedule your surgery if you feel sick or have a fever.
  4. Often, your surgeon will ask you to shower or bathe using Chlorhexidine [CHG]. This antiseptic solution eliminates many of the harmful germs that live on your skin.  Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions for using the antiseptic.
  5. Make sure you wash and dry your towels before you take your shower. Towels are perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. After using an antiseptic solution, use a clean towel.
  6. If you shower the night before surgery, make sure your sheets are washed and dried in a dryer before you go to bed to minimize your risk reintroducing bacteria to your skin.
  7. If you have a history of MRSA, tell your surgeon. He or she may give you special instructions.
  8. Don’t shave before you have surgery. Broken skin is the perfect portal for bacteria to enter the body. Shaving causes microscopic breaks that can give bacteria access. If you need an area shaved, the surgical team will take care of it in a sterile environment just before surgery to minimize your risk of infection.
  9. Avoid using lotion on your skin or conditioner in your hair. These products can harbor bacteria and promote their growth.
  10. Tell your healthcare provider about your other health issues. Some conditions, such as asthma, allergies, and diabetes, can affect healing.
  11. Stop smoking before surgery. Smoking lowers the oxygen level in your blood and slows the healing process.

After you arrive at the hospital, stay proactive.

Your doctor may prescribe a dose of antibiotics before your procedure. This practice is common in many hospitals and surgical centers. The type of antibiotic you receive depends on your overall health and medical condition.

If you see something that makes you uncomfortable or something that you don’t understand as you are being prepped for surgery, talk to your healthcare providers. They want to make sure you are as comfortable and as confident as possible during your procedure. They don’t mind re-washing their hands, changing their gloves, or opening another sterilized equipment kit if it makes you feel more at ease.

Your healthcare providers want you to be comfortable with your care.

After your surgery, be vigilant about hand washing.

Ask everyone to wash their hands as they enter your room. Unless they are caring for you, no one should touch your bandages or dressings. If you change your bandages, always wash your hands before and after you handle dressings or touch your wound.

Even with the best care and hygiene, infections can still happen. When they do, it’s important to recognize them and treat them quickly.

What are the symptoms of a surgical site infection?

After surgery, it’s customary to have some pain and swelling. But as your recovery continues, your surgical site should feel less tender and appear less swollen. Call your doctor if you experience:

  • Redness near the incision site
  • Increased pain
  • Elevated skin temperature, feeling warm or hot to the touch, near the incision
  • Milky or yellow discharge draining from the incision
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness

If these symptoms occur after hours, call the on-call provider. Tell him or her when you had surgery and describe your symptoms. Then follow the instructions you are given.

Being proactive with your health and hygiene before and after your surgery can help you avoid an infection or prevent an infection from getting worse.