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Recognizing and Treating Wound Infection

Wounds can become infected with harmful bacteria. This prevents healing and increases the risk of scars. In some cases, the infection may spread to other parts of the body. And infection with the bacteria that cause tetanus can be fatal. Know what to watch for and get prompt treatment for infection.


Risk Factors

A wound is more likely to become infected if it:

  • Results from a puncture, such as from a nail or piece of glass.

  • Results from a human or animal bite.

  • Isn't cleaned or treated within 8 hours.

  • Occurs in your hand, foot, leg, armpit, or groin.

  • Contains dirt or saliva.

  • Heals very slowly.

  • Occurs in a person with diabetes, alcoholism, or a compromised immune system.


Symptoms of Infection

Call your healthcare provider at the first sign of infection, such as:

  • Yellow, yellow-green, or foul-smelling drainage from a wound

  • Increased pain, swelling, or redness in or near a wound

  • A change in the color or size of a wound

  • Red streaks in the skin around the wound

  • Fever

Preventing Wound Infection

Follow these steps to help keep wounds from developing infection:

  • Wash the wound right away with soap and water.

  • Apply a small amount of antibiotic ointment. You can buy this at the drugstore without a prescription.

  • Cover wounds with a bandage or gauze dressing.

  • Keep the wound clean and dry for the first 24 hours.

  • Change the dressing daily using sterile gloves.


Treatment is likely to depend on the type and extent of your infection. Your healthcare provider may prescribe oral antibiotics to help fight bacteria. He or she may also flush the wound with an antibiotic solution or apply an antibiotic ointment. Sometimes an abscess (a pocket of pus) may form. In that case, the abscess will be opened and the fluid drained. You may need hospital care if the infection is very severe.


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