Seal of Illinois

Illinois Hospital Report Card

and Consumer Guide to Health Care

What are surgical site infections and how can they be prevented?

A surgical site infection (SSI) occurs after surgery in the part of the body where the surgery took place. These infections may involve only the skin or may be more serious and involve tissue under the skin or organs. SSIs sometimes take days or months after surgery to develop. Symptoms may include fever, redness or pain around the surgical site, or drainage of fluid from the wound.


The risk of surgical site infections can be reduced with several key health care provider practices:

  1. Cleaning hands (up to the elbow) with a special antiseptic soap prior to surgery.
  2. If required, safe removal of hair at the surgery site pre-operatively. The use of electric clippers has been found to be the best method.
  3. Clean the skin at the site of your surgery with a special soap that kills germs.
  4. Wearing face masks, gloves, protective gowns and special hats during surgery
  5. If indicated, appropriate short term use of antibiotics just prior to and after surgery. The correct antibiotic is usually given within one hour prior to surgery and discontinued 24 hours afterwards.
  6. Clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after each patient is cared for.

What can you do as a patient?

  1. Discuss the issue of preventing surgical site infections with your doctor before surgery.
  2. Review any other health problems you may have with the doctor - like diabetes, smoking or obesity, and how they may impact your surgery and treatment.
  3. Do not shave the area you will be having surgery prior to the surgery. A razor can irritate the skin and make you more vulnerable to an infection.
  4. If a health care worker attempts to shave you with a razor, speak up and ask why. Discuss with your surgeon if you have any concerns.
  5. Reinforce the importance of good hand hygiene and ask the doctor and other health care workers to ensure appropriate hand washing and use of gloves.
  6. After surgery, visitors should not touch the surgical wound.
  7. Visitors should clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after visiting you.
  8. Always clean your hands before and after caring for your post - surgical wound.
  9. Make sure you know how to take care of your surgical wound before you are discharged from the hospital, and who to contact if you have questions or problems once you are at home.
  10. If you have any symptoms of infection, such as redness, swelling or pain at the surgery site, drainage or fever, contact your doctor immediately.

For more information visit:

To view reports on Surgical Site infections in Illinois, see “State Reports of Current Interest”.