Prophylactic Antibiotics – Are You Safe After an Operation?


While most operations go ahead without a hitch, we're aware that all too often things can go wrong during or after. Operations will always expose the patient to some risk of infection. In most cases, these infections are simply a recognised complication of treatment, which cannot be attributed to negligence.

Medical Negligence

Certain operations place patients at an even higher risk of infection, such as operations involving the bowel, or operations involving the insertion of a foreign body (such as a hip implant or pacemaker).

In such cases, the use of prophylactic antibiotics should always be considered.

What are Prophylactic Antibiotics?

Prophylactic antibiotics are simply antibiotics that are provided to a patient before an operation and shortly afterwards. The aim is to kill any bacteria that may have entered a person's body.

Usually, when you're prescribed antibiotics by a doctor, it is because you have an infection, but prophylactic antibiotics are given to prevent an infection from happening.

Researchers from the Cardiac department at John Radcliffe Hospital Oxford carried out a medical study of 431 patients who were having pacemakers fitted. They provided prophylactic antibiotics to 234 of the group, and the remaining 197 weren't treated with antibiotics. Of those who did receive prophylactic antibiotics, only 2 had a post operation infection. A total of 7 out of 197 patients who weren't treated did catch a post operation infection. These results suggest that providing antibiotics to patients undergoing an operation that has a high risk of post-operative infection has benefits.

What are the Signs of a Post Operative Infection?

Sometimes a postoperative infection can have visible symptoms, such as pus, swelling, a thick fluid or a foul smell coming from where the incision was made. You may also have an unsually large amount of 'drainage' from the incision that soaks through multiple gauze pads per day.

Sometimes symptoms will be less visible, but will still have a physical effect, for example, you may suffer from a fever. It is normal to suffer from a mild temperature in the first couple of days after an operation, but if you start to experience a fever you should seek medical attention. This is vital as infections can sometimes lead to sepsis, which is something we have attempted to raise awareness of recently.

Medical negligence claims can arise from being given an inappropriate, or incomplete course of prophylactic antibiotics. A claim could also be made if they were not given at all and infection occurred as a result. Any of these situations may indicate that a duty of care has been breached by a medical professional.

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