Surgical Site Infection

(SSI; Surgical Wound Infection)


A surgical site infection (SSI) is an infection linked to recent surgery. Most SSIs involve just the skin. Some may infect deep tissue or organs.

The sooner an SSI is treated, the better the outcome.

Surgical Site Infection Near the Ankle

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Bacteria are the most common cause of SSIs.

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 used for a 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 past heath. Your wound will be checked.

Tests may include the following:

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


Treatment options include:

  • Antibiotics—may be given as pills or through IV
  • Surgery—to clean out the infection
    • The wound may need to be reopened.
    • It can be flushed with fluid to clean out pus.
  • Special dressing—to help keep area dry and clean


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

  • An antibiotic just before surgery
  • Antibiotics if there were signs of an infection at time of surgery
  • Lose weight before the surgery
  • Stop smoking
  • Wash your skin with an antiseptic soap before your surgery


American College of Surgeons
Centers for Disease Control


Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons


Healthcare-associated infections (HAI). Centers for Disease Control website. Available at: Accessed October 2, 2019.
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 website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Accessed October 2, 2019.
Suspected surgical site infection - approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dyname.... Accessed October 2, 2019.
Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Donald W. Buck II, MD
Last Updated: 6/12/2020

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