Postoperative surgical-site infections are a major source of morbidity and cost. This study aimed to identify and present all randomized controlled trial evidence evaluating the effects of dressings on surgical-site infection rates in surgical wounds healing by primary intention; the secondary outcomes included comparisons of pain, scar and acceptability between dressings.


Randomized controlled trials comparing alternative wound dressings, or wound dressings with leaving wounds exposed for postoperative management of surgical wounds were included in the review regardless of their language. Databases searched included the Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register and Central Register of Controlled Trials, Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid Embase and EBSCO CINAHL from inception to May 2011. Two authors performed study selection, risk of bias assessment and data extraction, including an assessment of surgical contamination according to the surgical procedure. Where levels of clinical and statistical heterogeneity permitted, data were pooled for meta-analysis.


Sixteen controlled trials with 2594 participants examining a range of wound contamination levels were included. They were all unclear or at high risk of bias. There was no evidence that any dressing significantly reduced surgical-site infection rates compared with any other dressing or leaving the wound exposed. Furthermore, no significant differences in pain, scarring or acceptability were seen between the dressings.


No difference in surgical-site infection rates was demonstrated between surgical wounds covered with different dressings and those left uncovered. No difference was seen in pain, scar or acceptability between dressings. Copyright © 2012 British Journal of Surgery Society Ltd. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.