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What Are the Signs of an Infection in an Incision?

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  • Written By: Nya Bruce
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Incisions are a common part of most invasive procedures or surgeries. If germs or bacteria enter the incision site, it can lead to a potentially dangerous infection. For this reason, proper aftercare is important to ensure that this does not occur. When a person is caring for an incision, he must also know how to recognize the signs of infection. The most common signs of infection in an incision include pus, bleeding, a foul odor, redness, heat and tenderness or pain.

Pus is one of the most visible and obvious signs that there is an infection in an incision site. After the incision is made, a type of white blood cells, called neutrophils, are sent to the wound to defend the body against infection. It is their job to remove bacteria from the area and keep an infection from occurring. If there are excessive amounts of bacteria present, the short-lived neutrophils die before they can get rid of it all. As a result more neutrophils pile on the dead ones to continue tackling the bacteria.

This buildup of dead neutrophils and bacteria results in the formation of pus. It is often thick and may have a greenish or yellowish tinge. A strong indication that there is an infection in an incision is that there is also a strong and unpleasant odor in addition to the pus. The presence of an infection in the wound may also cause it to bleed.

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Redness is an inflammatory response that occurs as the body fights off bacteria and infection. In most cases, inflammation is a normal part of the healing process. If the redness begins to deepen or radiate away from the incision site however, it is more than likely that the area has become infected. Heat is another inflammatory response that is associated with infection, particularly when the incision is extremely hot to the touch.

As an incision heals it is normal for there to be some pain or tenderness to the touch. This discomfort should lessen with time if the incision wound is healing properly. If it increases and becomes more painful over time, it is usually an indication that there is an infection present.

Fever is another potential warning sign of an infection in an incision. Depending on the type of incision and the extent of the infection, the body may reach an elevated core temperature of 101° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius) or higher. This typical does not occur unless the infection is severe and it will often be accompanied by other signs, such as redness or discharge.

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