Understanding Surgical Site Infections in New Jersey
NJ Surgical Site Infection Attorneys
Among the many complications that may be caused by medical malpractice in New Jersey, surgical site infection is a dangerous problem. As a person planning to undergo surgery or a patient who has recently undergone a surgical procedure, there are some critical things about surgical site infection and other postoperative complications that you should know. Here, we define and examine the issue of surgical site infection to provide a better understanding of its prevalence, as well as factors that place you at increased risk. Unfortunately, knowing the facts is not always enough. It is incumbent upon doctors and other healthcare providers to take the necessary steps to protect their patients before, during, and after medical procedures – particularly those involving incisions. Open and closed wounds present a major vulnerability for infection and contamination, requiring additional caution and continued monitoring to prevent and identify even the slightest signs of potential complications. When surgeons and medical staff fail to take these precautions, the consequences can be dire.
If you suffered a surgical site infection or other complications after surgery in New Jersey and are wondering if you may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim, seeking personalized guidance from an attorney is paramount. Our experienced team of New Jersey medical malpractice lawyers at Fronzuto Law Group come across cases like these all too often in our practice and we fight tirelessly to deliver patients the compensation they deserve. Contact us today at 973-435-4551 to consult with a lawyer from our team free of charge. You can also fill out our convenient form to request a free consultation.
What is a Surgical Site Infection (SSI)?
A surgical site infection, or SSI, is defined as an infection related to an operative procedure that occurs at or near the surgical incision within 30 days of the procedure, or within 90 days if prosthetic material is implanted at surgery, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Bacteria from a patient’s own skin, the surgeon’s hands, the hospital or operating room can enter the patient during or after surgery. Even the air may contain germs that cause infection. The most common germs involved in SSI cases are staphylococcus, streptococcus, and pseudomonas bacteria. While your body’s immune system is fighting to recover from the surgery, the bacteria or viruses can invade the incision site. Health care providers are particularly concerned about SSIs caused by bacteria resistant to antibiotics, like MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) or E-coli, which prolongs a patient’s hospital stay and is extremely difficult to treat.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) reports that over 10 million patients undergo inpatient surgery each year in the United States, which accounts for over 25 percent of all hospital stays. Among these patients, between 2 percent and 4 percent experience surgical site infections. The data suggests that surgical site infections are among the leading sources of preventable complications following surgical procedures. While the majority of these infections can be effectively treated with antibiotics, they can also escalate severely, causing further complications. For example, SSIs can turn into sepsis, a blood infection with serious consequences like organ failure. According to the AHRQ, surgical site infections are the prevailing cause of hospital readmissions after operations. Worse yet, about 3 percent of people who undergo surgery and subsequently contract an infection in the vicinity of the operative site ultimately die. In these cases, what begins as a surgical infection causes an untimely death.
Types of Surgical Site Infections
There are three main types of SSIs: superficial incisional SSI, which occurs only in the skin that was cut; deep incisional SSI, which originates in muscle and muscle tissue beneath the incision; and organ or space SSI, which is an infection in the body other than skin, muscle and muscle tissue affected by the surgery, such as an organ or space between organs. The risk of contracting an SSI depends upon whether the wound is clean, clean-contaminated, contaminated or dirty, meaning whether the surgical wound is not contaminated, involves spillage from an internal organ into the wound or is infected going into surgery.
A superficial infection only affects the incised skin. A deep incisional SSI, or muscle and tissue infection post-surgery affects the soft tissues around the incision, which may be the result of an untreated superficial infection. They may also be caused by implanted medical devices. An organ or space infection occurs after an organ has been touched during surgery. It often develops from a superficial infection or from bacteria entering the body during surgery. All SSIs are treated with antibiotics specific to the cause of the infection or, if necessary, by draining the incision or further surgery. An organ or space SSI requires antibiotics, drainage or surgical treatment of the organ, especially if an abscess or pool of pus has formed.
Risk Factors for SSI
There are a host of factors that increase the risk of developing an infection at the surgical site. Some of these are specific to the patient, meaning they are directly related to the patient’s current health or lifestyle practices. Patient-related risk factors for surgical site infection include smoking, conditions such as diabetes, the patient’s age, and lifestyle factors that may lead to malnutrition. Older adults and young children are more susceptible to SSIs, as are those with immune system compromising illnesses, such as diabetes, obesity and skin infections as well as lifestyle choices such as smoking. Other risk factors include cancer, taking corticosteroids like prednisone, or using steroids.
Other risk factors for SSI are procedure-related, meaning the specific circumstances of the surgery increase the patient’s risk for infection. For instance, emergency surgical procedures are more risky by their very nature. Similarly, operating on a wound that has already had significant exposure to bacteria inevitably places the patient at an increased risk for infection. Length of stay in the hospital before surgery is yet another risk factor for surgical site infection. Abdominal surgeries also place patients at an increased risk.
Common Surgeries Resulting in Surgical Site Infection
Some of the most common surgeries that may result in surgical site infection include:
- Cesarean section (C-section)
- Spinal surgery
- Orthopedic surgery (knee replacement, hip replacement)
- Abdominal surgical procedures (bowel resection surgery)
These procedures are performed inpatient; however, not all of them occur in a hospital setting. For example, surgery centers are becoming increasingly prevalent in New Jersey and across the country. While hospitals are better equipped to handle extended stays and procedures requiring recovery under medical supervision for several days or even weeks, surgical centers offer the ability to have certain procedures done, after which patients can be discharged in the same day.
Surgical Infections may be Caused by Medical Malpractice
Hospital workers must follow prescribed practices diligently to prevent surgical site infections or risk infecting patients with potentially disastrous results. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other national health initiatives recommend healthcare workers scrub their hands and arms with antiseptic, antimicrobial cleanser before surgery; keep the patient warm during surgery; control the patient’s glucose level (high levels induce infection); consider supplemental oxygen during surgery to keep the patient at the appropriate oxygen levels post-op; pack abdominal wounds to see if infection is present before closing the incision; clean hands and arms with soap and water or alcohol-infused hand soap before and after seeing a patient; clip hair off areas of the body likely to come in contact with the patient during the procedure; wear surgical caps, masks, gowns and gloves during surgery; administer antibiotics up to an hour before surgery; and clean the wound site with special germ-killing soap. Failure to follow these important procedures before, during, or after surgery may lead to a serious surgical infection and constitute medical malpractice.
Some of the leading forms of medical negligence that may result in post-surgery infection for a patient are as follows:
- Using unsterilized medical tools or instruments
- Failing to sterilize the operating room or ensure proper ventilation
- Operating on an unsterile surgical site
- Negligent procedures with hand washing
- Neglecting to administer antibiotics before a surgical procedure
- Neglecting to change a catheter frequently and other issues with a central-line
- Failure to properly dress or clean surgical wounds
- Failing to diagnose a post-surgical infection
- Surgical infection misdiagnosis
- Improper treatment of infection after surgery
Consult a New Jersey Post-Surgery Infection Lawyer about Your Case
If you suffered a surgical site infection or experienced infection-related complications after surgery, it is advisable to seek knowledgeable legal counsel. If a surgeon, nurse, or another healthcare provider failed to take the necessary steps to prevent your infection, failed to provide adequate follow-up care, or made errors during the surgery itself that contributed to your injuries, you may be able to obtain compensation for economic and non-economic damages. There are time limits for filing a medical malpractice claim in New Jersey, so you should speak with an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the legal team at Fronzuto Law Group today to discuss your unique situation and gather valuable information about your potential for a successful lawsuit.
- Surgical Site Infections, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guideline for the Prevention of Surgical Site Infection
- Surgical Safety Checklist, World Health Organization (WHO)