How do I Treat an Infected Wound?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2019
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Ideally, a wound should not be allowed to progress to the point of infection, but if a wound does become infected, there are a number of techniques which can be used to manage it. Treating an infected wound is important to prevent the spread of the infection; complications of infected wounds can include an infection in the bloodstream, widespread tissue death which leads to amputation, or even death, in some situations.

When an injury is sustained, the wound should be thoroughly flushed with soap and water and kept clean as it heals. If the wound is extremely large or deep, it is advisable to go to a hospital where it can be completely irrigated and some prophylactic medications can be prescribed to help prevent infection. In the case of a puncture wound, a tetanus booster may be necessary, and if an animal bite occurs, it should be reported. If documentation is available, it is also advisable to confirm that the animal has a current rabies vaccination, and if this data is not available, it may be necessary to take some steps to prevent the onset of rabies.


Signs that a wound has become infected include heat, swelling, and color changes around the wound. A septic wound may also have a smelly discharge which can vary in color, depending on the nature of the infection. Hot compresses can help promote drainage from the wound to get infected material out, and the wound should also be irrigated and cleaned at least twice a day.

If the infection remains low level and starts to resolve within a few days, a septic wound can be safely treated at home. However, if the patient develops a fever, the infection appears to be spreading, or rays of discoloration appear around the wound, it is time for professional attention. A doctor can fully irrigate and drain the wound, put in drains if necessary to keep the pathway for drainage clear, and prescribe medications to kill microorganisms in the wound.

For someone with a compromised immune system, an infected wound can be a very serious health risk. These individuals should contact their doctors if signs of infection appear to get advice about treatment or to make an appointment for a visit to the doctor's office.

Patients are sometimes shy about contacting a doctor for a problem they think is minor. If you are not sure about whether or not an infected wound needs medical attention, call your doctor's office or the hospital and ask to speak to a nurse. The nurse can go over your symptoms with you and determine whether or not you need to see a medical professional for treatment.


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Post 2

I have stitches underneath a bandage after a thyroid operation. This morning, some pus drained through the bandage. Please advise if this is a concern and what is the next step(s). Thanks.

Post 1

Great information because I have rays around a wound that has been closing up. The red streaks (rays) are about an inch long though, and they just appeared even though the wound has been there for a week or longer.

Also, I wish I could call my hospital to talk to a nurse, but when I called for an emergency question, they told me, "We are not allowed to give advice over the telephone. You have to come in."

This was in Athens, Clarke County, Georgia

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