One of the potential complications after surgery is post-operative infection. Throughout any surgical procedure there are a number of ways in which bacteria can enter the body: the incision site itself, catheters, breathing tubes, and drains. Because surgery is generally hard on the body, the immune system is often somewhat compromised as well, increasing the risk that bacteria can run amok within the body.
Luckily, infections are pretty rare, occurring in only about 1% of cases in North America. There is also a lot you can do to lessen the risk of infection whenever you go under the knife.
Before the Operation
1. Do not shave:
Many patients mistakenly think that shaving before a surgical procedure will help the surgeon. Unfortunately, this is not only wrong, it actually increases the risk of infection after the procedure is complete. Because shaving causes surface damage to the skin, it allows bacteria greater access to infiltrate the body. If hair removal is necessary prior to your procedure your surgeon will instruct you to do so 1 week prior to surgery but no sooner.
2. Bathe with antibacterial soap if instructed by your surgeon:
Sometimes before surgical procedures, doctors will instruct their patients to wash with a soap containing an antibacterial. This specialized soap is designed to minimize the bacteria that naturally lives on your skin to prevent it infiltrating the body during surgery. You will likely be asked to use it the night or the morning of your procedure. Wash from the neck down and pay special attention to any folds of skin before rinsing well.
3. Pay attention to general health:
If you are feeling poorly the day you are scheduled for surgery, contact your surgeon and have the procedure delayed. Going under the knife when your immune system is already compromised is a recipe for infection and slow recovery time. Wait until you are feeling back to 100% before rescheduling your appointment and your recovery will be much faster!
4. Don’t soak in the bath:
Avoid the bath, pool, or hot tub for at least 10-14 days following your surgery. Your incision sites will need time to heal and rebuild their waterproof layer before soaking in water that may contain bacteria. Instead, shower or sponge bath daily.
5. Let incisions breath:
About 24 hours after your procedure it will be time to remove the bandages for the first time. Excess moisture can cause infection by preventing the wound from fully scabbing over and closing. Use a breathable gauze dressing if you must keep the incision site covered to prevent it from rubbing on clothing or sheets.