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Caring for my surgical wound

This patient guide answers some commonly asked questions about your surgical wound.

What is a surgical wound infection?

Many germs live in our bodies and also in the environment. Most are harmless or even useful. Our bodies have natural defences against the germs that can cause harm. Our skin normally prevents germs from entering our bodies, but a cut or break in the skin can allow them to enter and cause an infection.

Most operations involve making cuts (wounds) in the skin. Most wounds heal without causing problems but sometimes a wound can get infected from germs from the skin or the environment. 

Your wound will be covered with a dressing which will be changed not every day but as required to reduce the risk of infection.

When do surgical wounds develop?

A wound infection can develop any time from 2-3 days after surgery to 2-3 weeks after the operation when the wound heals. Very occasionally an infection can occur several months after the operation.

What are the signs of a wound infection?

Whilst some redness and swelling is expected after surgery, signs of a wound infection are:

  • Redness, swelling, heat or pain around the wound
  • Fluid or yellow pus coming from the wound
  • You feel unwell or have a raised temperature

How can you help to prevent a wound infection?

  • Have a shower on the day of your operation if possible.
  • If you are given antibiotics after your operation, make sure  you finish the whole course.
  • Do not touch your wound or dressing unless you have washed your hands first.
  • Ask your nurse or doctor to wash their hands before touching  your wound or dressing if you have not seen them wash their hands first.
  • Tell your nurse or doctor if you think your wound is becoming red, sore, hot or oozing, or if you begin to feel more unwell.
  • Ask your visitors not to visit you in hospital if they have an infection, including a cold or sore throat.
  • Ask your visitors to wash their hands or use the foaming hand sanitiser at the end of your bed before and after visiting.

How will your wound be monitored?

During your stay in hospital, the nurse who changes your wound dressing will check for any signs of infection.  Infection can develop after you leave hospital. If you have a problem with your wound contact your GP unless you have been told to contact the hospital. About one month after your operation the hospital may send you a questionnaire or telephone you to ask if you have any problems with your wound.

Patients often leave hospital shortly after their operation and hospital staff need to find out about wound infections that occur after patients leave the hospital. The hospital passes this information on to UK.

Health Security Agency which co-ordinates the national programme for monitoring surgical wound infections.

For further information please contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service who can signpost you appropriately.

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