Safe Surgery: Preventing Surgical Site Infections

Safe Surgery: Preventing Surgical Site Infections

The best surgical treatment is provided by optimizing the entire surgical experience. At Lurie Children’s, our team works to make sure that surgery is as safe as possible both in and out of the operating room. Still, however, surgery does have some associated risks, and one such risk is a  possible post-operative surgical site infection.

To help reduce the incidence of peri-operative infections, surgeons follow guidelines to minimize risks to the patients. These guidelines include practices like hand-washing, using sterile techniques, appropriate use of antibiotics and minimizing the use of indwelling catheters.

Catherine Hunter, MD, a pediatric general surgeon at Lurie Children’s, says surgeons use a variety of safety measures to prevent infection, and that those practices vary based on the type of surgery being performed.

“Different surgeries carry different risks,” Dr. Hunter says. “While every surgery carries some risk for infection, small, outpatient surgeries in otherwise healthy children are less likely to result in infection that more extensive operations in sicker patients.”

The surgical site is also taken into consideration. For example, the bowel carries a high bacterial load, and is more likely to result in a contaminated field than a chest surgery. “The health of the patient going into surgery makes a difference as well,” Dr. Hunter says. “Inpatient surgeries are typically done on sicker patients; malnutrition, immunosuppression, and a history of prior infections may significantly impact a patient’s outcome.”

So what exactly do doctors do to decrease the likelihood of surgical site infections? Dr. Hunter says that counseling patients, assessing their risk factors, and solving pre-existing issues are crucial to help improve outcomes.

Dr. Hunter gives an example: “If a patient has severe acne and requires the placement of a sterile metal bar to correct a chest wall deformity, we will have them see a dermatologist to minimize this surgical site infection risk factor.” Doctors may administer antibiotics before, during, and after surgery, clean the skin before surgery, and wear sterile gowns and use sterile instruments. “There are many things we do throughout the surgical process to minimize the chance of infection.”

Antibiotic resistance is a problem that has to be considered. Because of this rising issue, doctors are becoming more focused on the type and duration of antibiotics to use. Inappropriate antibiotic choice or timing may actually increase the risk of infection, so the appropriate use of these medications is carefully monitored.

Any surgery can hold some risk for post-operative infection. However, thanks to surgical guidelines and the doctors who follow them, these infections are decreasing in frequency and severity. When it comes to your child’s surgery, our surgeons are keeping safety in mind every step of the way.


General Pediatric Surgery at Lurie Children’s

From traumatic injuries to complex malformations and everything in between, the Division of General Pediatric Surgery at Lurie Children’s treats conditions common and rare, from before birth to adolescence. We perform more pediatric operations than any other pediatric hospital in the Chicago metropolitan area, using the most advanced techniques and minimally invasive approaches.

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