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Surgical Site Infection


A surgical site infection (SSI) is an infection in the area where surgery was done. Most SSIs involve the skin, but sometimes deep tissue or organs can become infected.

The sooner a surgical site infection is treated, the better the outcome.

Surgical Site Infection Near the Ankle
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SSIs are caused by bacteria.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance an SSI are:

  • Poor blood circulation
  • Prior infection
  • Trauma
  • Foreign body in the wound, like a surgical mesh for hernia repair
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Long-term medical conditions
  • Heart disease
  • Lung disease
  • Weakened immune system
  • Age (elderly and very young)


An SSI may cause:

  • Fever more than 100.5ºF 48 hours or more after surgery
  • Chills
  • Fast heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Symptoms in the area where the surgery took place:
    • Redness
    • Drainage
    • Pus
    • Pain
    • Swelling
    • Bad smell


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and look at your wound.

Tests may include the following:

  • Wound culture—to test for bacteria in the wound
  • Biopsy—removal of a small piece of tissue from the wound to test for bacteria
  • Ultrasound or CT scan—to look for infection in the wound and nearby areas


Treatment options include:


Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. The kind of antibiotic you will get depends on the bacteria causing the infection. You may be given antibiotics by IV or by mouth.


You may need surgery to clean out the infection from your wound. Your doctor will reopen the wound. It may be flushed with sterile fluid and drained of pus.


Your doctor may order a special dressing to help your wound heal.


To help reduce your chance of an SSI, your doctor may do the following:

  • Give you an antibiotic before, during, and after surgery.
  • Ask you to lose weight or stop smoking.
  • Show you how to wash your skin with an antiseptic soap before your surgery.
  • Give you instructions on how to care for your incision at home—It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Donald Buck, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2015 -
  • Update Date: 09/30/2013 -
  • American College of Surgeons

  • Centers for Disease Control

  • Canadian Association of Wound Care

  • The Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons

  • Healthcare-associated infections (HAI). Centers for Disease Control website. Available at: Updated March 26, 2014. Accessed September 30, 2014.

  • Stevens DL, Bisno AL, Chambers HF, et al. Practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of skin and soft tissue infections: 2014 update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clin Infect Dis. 2014;59(2):e10-e52.

  • Surgical site infection—prevention. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated August 22, 2016. Accessed September 30, 2016.