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Surgical Site Infection

(SSI; Surgical Wound Infection)

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention


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. If you think you have this condition, contact your doctor right away.

Surgical Site Infection Near the Ankle

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SSIs are caused by bacteria.

Risk Factors

Some factors that may increase your chances of developing an SSI are:

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


If you have any of these symptoms, they may be due to an SSI. But other conditions can also cause them. Tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • 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


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Here are some treatment options:

Your doctor will give you a type of medicine called an antibiotic. Antibiotics fight infection. The kind of antibiotic you will get depends on the bacteria causing the infection. You may be given antibiotics by IV (needle in your vein) or by pill.

You may need surgery to clean out the infection from your wound. Your doctor will reopen the wound. He may flush it with sterile fluid, drain it of pus, and remove infected areas.

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


To help reduce your chances of getting 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.


American College of Surgeons


Centers for Disease Control



Canadian Association of Wound Care


The Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons



Armstrong C. IDSA releases guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of skin and soft tissue infections. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20061001/practice.html#p1. Accessed September 22, 2009.

Surgical site infection (SSI). Centers for Disease Control website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dhqp/FAQ_SSI.html/ Accessed September 22, 2009.

Surgical site infections. PDR Health website. Available at: http://www.pdrhealth.com/disease/disease-mono.aspx?contentFileName=ND7501G.xml&contentName=Surgical+Site+Infections&contentId=1130&TypeId=2. Accessed September 22, 2009.

Surgical wound infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated September 8, 2009. Accessed September 22, 2009.

Last reviewed September 2013 by Marcin Chwistek, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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