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Prevention of Surgical Infections


Paul K. Mohabir

, MD, Stanford University School of Medicine;

André V Coombs

, MBBS, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

Reviewed/Revised Nov 2020 | Modified Sep 2022
Topic Resources

Most surgical procedures do not require prophylactic or postoperative antibiotics. However, certain patient-related and procedure-related factors alter the risk/benefit ratio in favor of prophylactic use.

Patient-related risk factors suggesting need for antibiotics include

Procedures with higher risk involve areas where bacterial seeding is likely:

  • Mouth

  • Gastrointestinal tract

  • Respiratory tract

  • Genitourinary tract

In so-called clean (likely to be sterile) procedures, prophylaxis generally is beneficial only when prosthetic material or devices are being inserted or when the consequence of infection is known to be serious (eg, mediastinitis after coronary artery bypass grafting).

Choice of antibiotics is based on the Surgical Care Improvement Project (SCIP) guidelines ( see Perioperative Management Perioperative Management The Surgical Care Improvement Project (SCIP) was initiated in 2005 out of the Surgical Infection Prevention (SIP) project. Recognized as an American multi-year partnership, the project aimed... read more ). There is strong evidence that standardizing antibiotic choices and adhering to SCIP protocols or another standardized and validated protocol reduce the risk of surgical infection. Some regions of the US that followed SCIP guidelines were able to decrease surgical site infections by 25% from 2006 to 2010. Drug choice is based on the drug's activity against the bacteria most likely to contaminate the wound during the specific procedure ( see Table: Antibiotic Regimens for Certain Surgical Procedures Antibiotic Regimens for Certain Surgical Procedures Antibiotic Regimens for Certain Surgical Procedures ). The antibiotic is given within 1 hour before the surgical incision (2 hours for vancomycin and fluoroquinolones). Antibiotics may be given orally or IV, depending on the procedure. For most cephalosporins, another dose is given if the procedure lasts > 4 hours. For clean procedures, no additional doses are needed, but, for other cases, it is unclear whether additional doses are beneficial. Antibiotics are continued > 24 hours postoperatively only when an active infection is detected during surgery; antibiotics are then considered treatment, not prophylaxis.

The Center for Disease Control has published guidelines for prevention of surgical site infections that address topical and nondrug antiseptic measures (eg, bathing, sealants, irrigation, prophylaxis for prosthetic devices).


More Information

The following English-language resources may be useful. Please note that The Manual is not responsible for the content of these resources.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
FIRVANQ, Vancocin, Vancocin Powder, VANCOSOL
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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