Nearly 10 per cent of women having a caesarean section experienced infections post-surgery, figures released by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) have revealed.

The study looked at the experiences of 4,107 women, and identified 394 surgical infections. The majority of infections were found to be minor (88 per cent), and overweight or obese women were found to be at greatest risk.

In total, 348 of the infections were superficial incisional infections, which cleared up after a few days, 19 cases were deep incisional infections affecting deeper tissue, and required antibiotic treatment, hospitalisation or surgery in the most serious cases, and 27 were organ/space infections and required a course of intravenous antibiotics. Of those cases, 23 women were readmitted to hospital for treatment.

Obese women were found to be 1.6 to 3.7 times more likely to develop a surgical site infection, while women under 20 were also found to be at higher risk of infection compared to those aged 25-30. In the latter case the authors of the report, writing in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said further research was needed to find out why.

Dr Elizabeth Sheridan, Head of Healthcare Associated infections at the HPA, said: "Reducing rates of surgical site infections following a caesarean should be made a priority. Given that one in four women deliver their baby by caesarean section, these infections represent a substantial burden. They will impact not only directly on the mother and her family but also are a significant cost in terms of antibiotic use, GP time and midwife care and every effort should be made to avoid them. Women choosing to have caesarean section for non-medical reasons should be aware of the risk of infection, particularly if they are overweight.

"As has been seen in both this study and several others, there is an established link between BMI and an increase in the risk of developing a surgical site infection. Monitoring infections in women having a caesarean section is important as a means to drive down infection rates. As levels of obesity are rising, optimising surgical techniques and identifying the most appropriate dosing of antibiotics could provide a means for reducing wound infections in obese women."

Story posted on 01/08/2012 by Robert Mair