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What is a Wound Infection?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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A wound infection is an infectious agent present on a wound — the area where the skin has been opened by a surgery, a cut, development of a sore, or a burn. Even with sterile techniques for surgery and wound treatment, infection can still develop. Once infection sets in, bacteria populate and rapidly multiply in the wound.

Preventing infections is challenging because our skin is constantly exposed to bacteria. If the skin is injured, the bacteria may proliferate to unhealthy levels, which compromises ability to heal, risking infection of the blood or sepsis. Wound infections need to be treated quickly to avoid degradation of skin or sepsis developing.

Sometimes a wound infection is obvious and signs could be proliferation of pus, reopening of the wound, redness around the wound, or wound enlargement. Yet, it’s not always immediately clear that an injured part of the skin is infected. Some early signs that might suggest bacterial development at higher rates include fever of about 100 F (37.78 C) or more, and presence of swollen glands especially in the groin or under the neck. The wound can feel warmer than normal or hot to the touch, and sometimes redness surrounds it or red streaks are present around it. Signs like pus, which might be yellow, white or green, or opening of the wound, especially a large surgical wound would indicate infection. Any of these indicators suggest contacting a doctor for early treatment.

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Type of treatments for wound infection depends on the severity and potential cause. A small, infected cut might require antibiotics, and doctors may or may not need to culture the wound to determine the type of bacteria. Large wounds or reopened surgical wounds might be treated with antibiotics too, but antibiotics might be given via intravenous infusion to prevent sepsis.

Another possible treatment for wound infection is called debridement. This is a minor surgical procedure that may only require local anesthetic in some cases. The tissue in the wound is removed down to the level where healthier tissue exists. By eliminating infected tissue, and then by giving antibiotics, the skin may heal better.

In very rare instances, extremely aggressive and difficult to treat bacteria are present in a wound and debridement is not enough to stop infection from spreading. Surgeons might consider amputation in these cases to remove as much infection as possible. This can be curative, though it is an aggressive and last-resort method for ending a wound infection. It would apply best to those cuts on extremities, and might be difficult to attempt on cuts located on the trunk.

Though bacteria abounds, people can still work to prevent wound infection by thoroughly washing hands before touching wounds, and by keeping them cleanly bandaged at all times. Even when bandaged, people should be sure to assess wounds once a day or so to determine that they are healing well. Concerns about infection should be brought to a physician’s attention right away.

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Wisedly33
Post 2

I got an infected cut on my finger from a kitchen knife several years ago. It was nasty. I had a band-aid on it most of the time and soaked it in warm salty water, which probably kept the infection from being worse than it was. I ended up having to take a round of antibiotics to make sure I wouldn't get septicemia or something.

My mom was kind of paranoid since her grandfather died from a cut on his hand that he never got treated. But that was in 1935 or so, so the chances of me getting that sick were slim to none.

Scrbblchick
Post 1

I've had enough skinned knees from bike wrecks to be very familiar with wound infections. I had a memorable wreck and still bear the scars 30 years later.

The skin on my knee was in bad shape. I hadn't sprained it or anything, but I had one more nasty case of road rash. My knee looked awful. The wounds got infected, in spite of my mom's best efforts, and I had to go to the doctor so he could see them and clean the wounds with saline. They had this spray on stuff called Aeroplast and it *burned*! It formed a covering over the wounds, but it was gross. We had to puncture the covering to drain the pus. Yuck. What a memory!

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