Incision site for cesarean delivery is important in infection prevention

Robert L. Barbieri, MD



Incision site for cesarean delivery is important in infection prevention

Dr. Barbieri’s editorial very nicely explained strategies to reduce the risk of post–cesarean delivery surgical site infection (SSI). However, what was not mentioned, in my opinion, is the most important preventive strategy. Selecting the site for the initial skin incision plays a great role in whether or not the patient will develop an infection postoperatively.

Pfannenstiel incisions are popular because of their obvious cosmetic benefit. In nonemergent cesarean deliveries, most ObGyns try to use this incision. However, exactly where the incision is placed plays a large role in the genesis of a postoperative wound infection. The worst place for such incisions is in the crease above the pubis and below the panniculus. Invariably, this area remains moist and macerated, especially in obese patients, thus providing a fertile breeding ground for bacteria. This problem can be avoided by incising the skin approximately 2 cm cranial to and parallel to the aforementioned crease, provided that the panniculus is not too large. The point is that the incision should be placed in an area where it has a chance to stay dry.

Sometimes patients who are hugely obese require great creativity in the placement of their transverse skin incision. I recall one patient, pregnant with triplets, whose abdomen was so large that her umbilicus was over the region of the lower uterine segment when she was supine on the operating room table. Some would have lifted up her immense panniculus and placed the incision in the usual crease site. This would be problematic for obtaining adequate exposure to deliver the babies, and the risk of developing an incisional infection would be very high. Therefore, a transverse incision was made just below her umbilicus. The panniculus was a nonissue regarding gaining adequate exposure and, when closed, the incision remained completely dry and uninfected. The patient did extremely well postoperatively and had no infectious sequelae.

David L. Zisow, MD
Baltimore, Maryland

Extraperitoneal approach should be considered

I enjoyed the editorial on reducing surgical site infection, especially the references to the historical Halsted principles of surgery. “He was the first in this country to promulgate the philosophy of ‘safe’ surgery.”1 Regarding surgical principles of cesarean delivery, the pioneering German obstetricians in the 1930s were keenly aware that avoiding the peritoneal cavity was instrumental in reducing morbidity and mortality. They championed the safety of the extraperitoneal approach as the fundamental principle of cesarean delivery for maternal safety.2

I learned to embrace the principles of Kaboth while learning the technique in 1968–1972. Thus, for more than 30 years, I used the extraperitoneal approach to access the lower uterine segment, avoiding entrance into the abdominal cavity. My patients seemed to benefit. As the surgeon, I also benefited: with short operative delivery times, less postoperative pain and minor morbidities, fewer phone calls from nursing staff, and less difficulty for my patients. I had not contaminated the peritoneal cavity and avoided all those inherent problems. The decision to open the peritoneal cavity has not been subjected to the rigors of critical analysis.3 I think that Kaboth’s principles remain worthy of consideration even today.

Contemporary experiences in large populations such as in India and China that use the extraperitoneal cesarean approach seem to implicitly support Kaboth’s principles. However, in the milieu of evidence-based medicine, extraperitoneal cesarean delivery has not been adequately studied.4 Just maybe the extraperitoneal approach should be considered and understood as a primary surgical technique for cesarean deliveries; just maybe it deserves a historical asterisk alongside the Halsted dicta.

Hedric Hanson, MD
Anchorage, Alaska

Dr. Barbieri responds

I thank Drs. Zisow and Hanson for their great recommendations and clinical pearls. I agree with Dr. Zisow that I should have mentioned the importance of optimal placement of the transverse skin incision. Incision in a skin crease that is perpetually moist increases the risk for a postoperative complication. When the abdomen is prepped for surgery, the skin crease above the pubis appears to be very inviting for placement of the skin incision. Dr. Hanson highlights the important option of an extraperitoneal approach to cesarean delivery. I have not thought about using this approach since the mid-1980s. Dr. Hanson’s recommendation that a randomized trial be performed comparing the SSI rate and other outcomes for extraperitoneal and intraperitoneal cesarean delivery is a great idea.

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