BACKGROUND: Antimicrobial resistance may compromise the efficacy of antibiotic prophylaxis before surgery. The aim of this study was to measure susceptibility and clonal distribution of coagulase-negative staphylococci (CoNS) colonizing the skin around the surgery access site before and after the procedure. METHODS: From March to September 2004, a series of 140 patients undergoing elective major abdominal surgery were screened for CoNS colonization at admission and 5 days after surgery. All isolates were tested for antibiotic susceptibility and genotyped by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). RESULTS: Colonization rates with CoNS at admission and after surgery were 85% and 55%, respectively. The methicillin-resistant CoNS rate increased from 20% at admission to 47% after surgery (P = 0.001). The PFGE pattern after surgery revealed more patients colonized with identical clones: 8/140 patients (8/119 strains) and 26/140 patients (26/77 strains), respectively (P < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest rapid recolonization of disinfected skin by resistant nosocomial CoNS. Larger studies, preferably among orthopedic or cardiovascular patients, are required to clarify whether standard antibiotic prophylaxis with first- or second-generation cephalosporins for CoNS infections may be compromised if the patient requires an additional intervention 5 days or more after the initial surgery.