Surgical Site Infections: Then and Now


155 years ago, Abraham Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States, and the breaking waves of the Civil War became a full-blown hurricane. I thought of this recently when re-reading about the discovery of penicillin, and before that, the development of antiseptics and aseptic surgical technique. When history is examined through the lens of medicine, it’s astounding how far we’ve come in 155 years – and we’ve been fighting an uncivil war with microbes all along.

In 1861, the year that Lincoln was sworn into his first term, Louis Pasteur had just disproved the common belief that microbes spontaneously came into existence on substrates like meat broth. By proving instead that dust and air carried the germs, he ushered in the golden age of microbiology and anchored the growing “Germ Theory” of illness – that germs caused and spread disease. In 1861,  26% of all Civil War amputations resulted in death because of our inability to control germs. At that point, amputation was actually the best possible treatment for most battle wounds.

One and a half centuries later, we have hand hygiene, antibiotics, disinfectants, sterile fields and sterile instruments, heck – we are performing brain surgery with lasers attached to robot arms!

It’s disappointing, then, that the CDC currently predicts 1 of every 3 surgeries today in the U.S. will result in an infection. While fewer of those will be fatal than the Civil War surgeries, pain and suffering are inevitable (along with other complications).

Those statistics must improve and fortunately, progress is being made. Just this week, Trinity Medical Center in Birmingham, AL, published a study detailing how they eliminated surgical site infections (SSIs) in their total joint procedures. By utilizing quality improvement techniques and then adding Xenex Germ-Zapping™ Robots to disinfect ORs and patient rooms, over a period of 12 months they eliminated all total joint SSI infections and saved almost $300,000 in 12 months by preventing infections.

“This intervention may have prevented 14 infections, averted 1 death, and saved $290,990 over the 12 months studied. The practices introduced in 2013 have been continued to date with 1 infection occurring in 493 procedures in from January to June 2015.”

That’s the kind of triumph in battle that anyone can applaud.

To learn more about Trinity’s results, please visit our Research page.

Credit xenexadmin