This week, 17 to 23 October 2021, is International Infection Prevention Week. Every year, this event raises awareness of how to stop infection occurring and the importance of doing so. This year’s theme is “Make Your Intention Infection Prevention”, which aims to consider the science behind stopping infection, and inspire people to become “infection preventionists”.
Over the last 18 months or so, the world has changed and most of us have found ourselves thinking about the risks of infection more than we ever have before. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic change in our behaviour on a number of levels, from handwashing and sanitising far more often, to wearing face masks in public and, during lockdown, significantly restricting our ability to socialise or spend time outside our own homes. It may therefore seem that infection prevention is already very much at the forefront of the public mind.
However, Covid-19 and other viruses are not the only type of infection of which we need to remain aware. As clinical negligence specialists, at Penningtons Manches Cooper we unfortunately often see the devastating effects of post-operative infections (infection after surgery).
Post-operative infection is fairly common and can range from mild to very severe, and even life-threatening. There is a higher risk of infection following surgery for older people, smokers, people who are overweight and those who have health conditions that weaken the immune system. Patients should be aware of the signs of post-operative infection so that they can look out for these and seek medical advice:
Post-operative infection is usually treated with antibiotics, and the wound may need to be reopened so that it can be cleaned. Sometimes, serious infections require further surgery and occasionally, if something has been implanted (e.g. a hip implant), it may need to be replaced altogether. Infection often worsens and spreads over time so the sooner it is treated, the less likely it is to become severe.
Victoria Johnson, an associate in the clinical negligence team, comments: “Post-operative infection is quite common, so it is something that patients should be aware of and checking the signs for, if they have had surgery in the recent days, weeks or even months.
“Infection may be a ‘recognised risk’ of a particular type of surgery, meaning that the surgeon or hospital may not have done anything wrong despite infection occurring. However, this is not always the case. We sometimes see cases where the initial infection itself was not preventable and not a sign of any errors in the patient’s care, but there was then a delay in spotting and treating the infection properly. This allows the infection to spread and become far worse, and harder to treat, than it would have been had it had been identified sooner. The effects of leaving post-operative infection without prompt and adequate treatment, usually in the form of antibiotics, can be devastating for the patient.”