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Key Points

  1. Sepsis is a life-threatening syndrome reflecting both an infection and the systemic host response to it. It has a broad variety of presentations and manifestations that hold in common some form of organ dysfunction. Outcomes in patients with sepsis are improved with an organized approach to therapy that addresses rapid resuscitation, antibiotics, and source control.

  2. Source control is a key concept in the treatment of most surgically relevant infections. Infected or necrotic material must be drained or removed as part of the treatment plan in this setting. Delays in adequate source control are associated with worsened outcomes.

  3. Principles relevant to appropriate antibiotic prophylaxis for surgery: (a) select an agent with activity against organisms commonly found at the site of surgery, (b) administer the initial dose of the antibiotic within 30 minutes prior to incision, (c) redose the antibiotic during long operations based upon the half-life of the agent to ensure adequate tissue levels, and (d) limit the antibiotic regimen to no more than 24 hours after surgery for routine prophylaxis.

  4. When using antimicrobial agents for therapy of serious infection, several principles should be followed: (a) identify likely sources of infection, (b) select an agent (or agents) that will have efficacy against likely organisms for these sources, (c) begin therapy rapidly with broad coverage, as inadequate or delayed antibiotic therapy results in increased mortality, (d) when possible, obtain cultures early and use results to refine therapy, (e) if no infection is identified after 3 days, strongly consider discontinuation of antibiotics, based upon the patient’s clinical course, and (f) discontinue antibiotics after an appropriate course of therapy.

  5. The incidence of surgical site infections can be reduced by appropriate patient preparation, timely perioperative antibiotic administration, maintenance of perioperative normothermia and normoglycemia, and appropriate wound management.

  6. The keys to good outcomes in patients with necrotizing soft tissue infection are early recognition and appropriate debridement of infected tissue with repeated debridement until no further signs of infection are present.

  7. Transmission of HIV and other infections spread by blood and body fluids from patient to healthcare worker can be minimized by practicing universal precautions, which include routine use of barriers when anticipating contact with blood or body fluids, washing of hands and other skin surfaces immediately after contact with blood or body fluids, and careful handling and disposal of sharp instruments during and after use.


Although treatment of infection has long been an integral part of the surgeon’s practice, the body of knowledge that led to the present field of surgical infectious disease was derived from the evolution of germ theory and antisepsis. Application of the latter to clinical practice, concurrent with the development of anesthesia, was pivotal in allowing surgeons to expand their repertoire to encompass complex procedures that previously were associated with extremely high rates of morbidity and mortality due to postoperative infections. However, until recently the occurrence of infection related to ...

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