How To Prevent Surgical Infections

Take steps to prevent surgical infections. Thierry Dosogne / Getty Images

Prevention is the key to management of surgical infections. While the risk of developing a post-surgical infection is small, the consequences can be devastating. Here are some recommendations that you can use to help prevent infection at the time of your surgery.

Skin Preparation

Hair removal should be done just prior to surgery (not the night before), and should be done with clippers rather than a razor.

Many surgeons recommend a shower with antiseptic soap the night before surgery.


Antibiotics may not be needed for all surgical procedures. Ask your doctor if they are needed for your surgery. For orthopedic surgery, if metal implants (such as a hip or knee replacement) are being used, then antibiotics should be used. If antibiotics are needed, they should be given within 1 hour of the start of the surgical procedure.

Operating Room

Ask the number of personnel in the OR to be limited to those required for the procedure; excess traffic in the OR should be avoided.

Also ask that the temperature of the OR be maintained at a reasonable level. There is a misconception of many OR personnel that a lower temperature decreases infection risk. This is not true. Infection risk is reduced when the body is kept warm.

Wound/Bandage Care

Ask your doctor how to care for the bandage post-operatively.

Specifically ask your doctor if you should remove the bandage and when you can get the incision wet. If you have problems with your bandage, call your doctor for instructions.

For Diabetics...

Maintaining a normal blood glucose level is of utmost importance during the surgery and during the post-operative period.

Elevated levels of blood sugar are linked to a higher risk of post-surgical infections.

Watch For Signs of Infection

Signs of an infection include fever, chills, and sweats. Also look for redness around the incision. It is normal to have a small amount of drainage from the incision in the first day or two following surgery. But if this persists, or if you see pus draining from the wound, contact your doctor immediately.

Infections are best treated when caught early, so let your doctor know of any problems that may be signs of an infection.


Nichols RL. "Surgical infections: prevention and treatment--1965 to 1995" Am J Surg 1996;172:68-74.

Nichols RL. "Preventing Surgical Site Infections: A Surgeon's Perspective" Centers for Disease Control.

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