Whenever human skin is penetrated, microscopic invaders can bypass the body's natural defenses, leading to an infection. Surgical incisions give germs such a window to enter the body. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2.8 percent of all surgical procedures in the U.S. result in a surgical site infection, with some facilities experiencing a rate as high as 11 percent [source: Johns Hopkins Medicine]. The effects can be as minor as redness and swelling at the surgical site or as major as sepsis, a body-wide reaction to infection that can lead to organ failure and death.
The CDC's Surgical Care Improvement Project is a set of procedures aimed at reducing the rate of SSIs in hospitals – as much as 17 percent of all hospital-acquired infections are SSIs, second only to UTIs [source: CDC]. An SSI can significantly increase a patient's chances of death following surgery, and sepsis can lead to long-term disabilities. There's a monetary cost, too, since a post-surgery infection prolongs hospital stays by about a week [source: Johns Hopkins Medicine].
Simply minimizing the number of people moving in and out of the room during surgery and stopping the use of razors to remove body hair before surgery can reduce the chances of an SSI. Dosing the patient with antibiotics before surgery also can prevent bacteria from thriving at the surgical site – specific dosage and timing are required for this to be effective.