Infection After Surgery: Signs & Prevention

You’re out of the operating room and in recovery. Surgery can save your life, but it comes with risks, too. You’ll need to watch for infection after surgery.

An infection can slow down your recovery. It can even put you in a life-threatening situation.

What is a Surgical Site?

The “surgical site” is the place on your body where cuts were made to perform the surgery. The cuts at the surgical site are also called "incisions."

Am I at Risk for an Infection After Surgery?

Anyone who has gone through surgery is at risk of infection. But some people have a greater risk, like:

  • Older people
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People taking certain medicines
  • Smokers
  • People who are obese or have underlying conditions
  • People having longer or certain types of surgeries

How Can We Prevent Surgical Site Infections?

In the Hospital

During your hospital stay, we’ll reduce the possibility of infection after surgery by:

  • Washing hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping incisions covered
  • Cleaning the surgical site

You can help by:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding your healthcare providers to do the same
  • Reminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masks
  • Not allowing others to touch your incision
  • Ask questions if you’re confused or concerned

At Home

You can also help prevent infection after surgery at home.

Before surgery:

  • Follow the preparation instruction you’re given. If you have special soaps or other cleansers to use, use them correctly.
  • Discuss the procedure with your care team. Learn as much as you can about your surgery and how to manage your recovery.
  • Avoid tobacco as much as you can.

After surgery:

  • Follow the care instructions you’re given.
  • Keep the dressings clean and dry.
  • Wash your hands before cleaning the surgical site or changing the dressings.
  • Make sure to take your medicines and follow any medication instructions you’re given.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Avoid using tobacco.
  • Don’t put anything on the surgical site, like ointment, unless your provider tells you to.
When You Should Get Help

Contact your care team if you’re having trouble during your recovery or you develop complications, like:

  • Signs of infection, like fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, pain, bleeding, or any discharge from the surgical site
  • Nausea or vomiting that doesn’t get better
  • Pain that doesn’t get better with medication
  • Cough, chest pain, or difficulty breathing
  • Coughing up yellow, green, or bloody mucus
  • Pain or swelling in your feet or legs

Call 911 if you suddenly have:

  • Chest pain
  • A hard time breathing