The thought of being knocked unconscious for the purposes of a medical operation can send shivers up your spine. Though many doctors are adequately trained and experienced, and hospital personnel follow strict protocol to ensure patient safety, there are instances where a surgical error can leave a patient with significant harm. One of these occurs in the form of surgical site infections.

A surgical site infection often develops within a month after an operation, and may cause fever, pain, swelling, and tenderness. These infections are typically caused by microorganisms, including Staphylococcus and Streptococcus, and can be transferred to a patient through the air or by coming into contact with a contaminated healthcare worker or surgical instrument. Though this type of infection only affects between one and three percent of all surgical patients, the results can be significant.

Those who become infected can not only suffer excruciating pain, but infections, if not treated properly, can become fatal. Victims and their families may then be left with extensive medical bills, funeral expenses, and additional lost wages, which very well could throw them off balance financially. The good news is that there are things you can do to help keep yourself safe.

First, there are risk factors for surgical site infection, including smoking and being overweight. Reducing these risk factors may help increase your safety. It is also critical to share you complete medical history with your doctor so that he or she knows how they can modify the surgery to avoid potential complications. Also, do not let anyone touch the surgical site, as contact could spread microorganisms and thus cause infection.

Though many surgical site infections are unavoidable, sometimes surgical mishaps, including infection, are caused by errant medical professionals. If a doctor or nurse’s negligence has caused you harm, then you may want to consider speaking with a legal professional about the possibility of filing a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Surgical Site Infections,” accessed on March 13, 2015