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Guideline for Prevention of Surgical Site Infection, 1999

I. Surgical Site Infection (SSI): An Overview

A. Introduction

Before the mid-19th century, surgical patients commonly developed postoperative "irritative fever," followed by purulent drainage from their incisions, overwhelming sepsis, and often death. It was not until the late 1860s, after Joseph Lister introduced the principles of antisepsis, that postoperative infectious morbidity decreased substantially. Lister's work radically changed surgery from an activity associated with infection and death to a discipline that could eliminate suffering and prolong life.

Currently, in the United States alone, an estimated 27 million surgical procedures are performed each year.[13] The CDC's National Nosocomial Infections Surveillance (NNIS) system, established in 1970, monitors reported trends in nosocomial infections in U.S. acute-care hospitals. Based on NNIS system reports, SSIs are the third most frequently reported nosocomial infection, accounting for 14% to 16% of all nosocomial infections among hospitalized patients.[14] During 1986 to 1996, hospitals conducting SSI surveillance in the NNIS system reported 15,523 SSIs following 593,344 operations (CDC, unpublished data). Among surgical patients, SSIs were the most common nosocomial infection, accounting for 38% of all such infections. Of these SSIs, two thirds were confined to the incision, and one third involved organs or spaces accessed during the operation. When surgical patients with nosocomial SSI died, 77% of the deaths were reported to be related to the infection, and the majority (93%) were serious infections involving organs or spaces accessed during the operation.

In 1980, Cruse estimated that an SSI increased a patient's hospital stay by approximately 10 days and cost an additional $2,000.[15,16] A 1992 analysis showed that each SSI resulted in 7.3 additional postoperative hospital days, adding $3,152 in extra charges.[17] Other studies corroborate that increased length of hospital stay and cost are associated with SSIs.[18,19] Deep SSIs involving organs or spaces, as compared to SSIs confined to the incision, are associated with even greater increases in hospital stays and costs.[20,21]

Advances in infection control practices include improved operating room ventilation, sterilization methods, barriers, surgical technique, and availability of antimicrobial prophylaxis. Despite these activities, SSIs remain a substantial cause of morbidity and mortality among hospitalized patients. This may be partially explained by the emergence of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens and the increased numbers of surgical patients who are elderly and/or have a wide variety of chronic, debilitating, or immunocompromising underlying diseases. There also are increased numbers of prosthetic implant and organ transplant operations performed. Thus, to reduce the risk of SSI, a systematic but realistic approach must be applied with the awareness that this risk is influenced by characteristics of the patient, operation, personnel, and hospital.


B. Key Terms Used in the Guideline

Cross-section of abdominal wall depicting CDC classifications of surgical site infection.

FIGURE. Cross-section of abdominal wall depicting CDC classifications of surgical site infection.[22] View larger size.

1. Criteria for defining SSIs

The identification of SSI involves interpretation of clinical and laboratory findings, and it is crucial that a surveillance program use definitions that are consistent and standardized; otherwise, inaccurate or uninterpretable SSI rates will be computed and reported. The CDC's NNIS system has developed standardized surveillance criteria for defining SSIs (Table 1).[22] By these criteria, SSIs are classified as being either incisional or organ/space. Incisional SSIs are further divided into those involving only skin and subcutaneous tissue (superficial incisional SSI) and those involving deeper soft tissues of the incision (deep incisional SSI). Organ/space SSIs involve any part of the anatomy (e.g., organ or space) other than incised body wall layers, that was opened or manipulated during an operation (Figure). Table 2 lists site-specific classifications used to differentiate organ/space SSIs. For example, in a patient who had an appendectomy and subsequently developed an intraabdominal abscess not draining through the incision, the infection would be reported as an organ/space SSI at the intra-abdominal site. Failure to use objective criteria to define SSIs has been shown to substantially affect reported SSI rates.[23,24] The CDC NNIS definitions of SSIs have been applied consistently by surveillance and surgical personnel in many settings and currently are a de facto national standard.[22,25]


2. Operating suite

A physically separate area that comprises operating rooms and their interconnecting hallways and ancillary work areas such as scrub sink rooms. No distinction is made between operating suites located in conventional inpatient hospitals and those used for "same-day" surgical care, whether in a hospital or a free-standing facility.


3. Operating room

A room in an operating suite where operations are performed.


4. Surgical personnel

Any healthcare worker who provides care to surgical patients during the pre-, intra-, or postoperative periods.


5. Surgical team member

Any healthcare worker in an operating room during the operation who has a surgical care role. Members of the surgical team may be "scrubbed" or not; scrubbed members have direct contact with the sterile operating field or sterile instruments or supplies used in the field (refer to "Preoperative Hand/Forearm Antisepsis" section).


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