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Wound Infection

Is this your symptom?

  • Wound (break in the skin) shows signs of infection
  • Stitched wounds, puncture wounds, and scrapes that look infected

Some Basics...

  • A wound can become infected if bacteria get into the break in the skin.
  • If a wound is infected, symptoms will appear 1-3 days after the injury.
  • Wound infections need to be treated by a doctor.


  • Bright red, sunburn-like rash all over body
  • Fever
  • Lymph node draining that area of skin may become large and tender (lymphadenitis)
  • Pain or swelling gets worse after 48 hours since the wound happened
  • Pimple or yellow crust formed on the wound (impetigo)
  • Pus or cloudy fluid draining from the wound
  • Red streak is spreading from the wound toward the heart (lymphangitis)
  • Scab has gotten bigger
  • Spreading redness near the wound (cellulitis)
  • Wound has blisters or black dead tissue
  • Wound hasn't healed within 10 days after the injury
  • Wound is very tender
  • Wound smells bad

Types of Wound Infection

  • Cellulitis
  • Impetigo
  • Lymphadenitis
  • MRSA

What is MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus)?

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria that can cause skin and wound infections. These may be pimples, boils, abscesses, cellulitis, and impetigo.

In the 1960s, strains of resistant bacteria started showing up in hospitals. These were called MRSA strains. MRSA now causes more skin infections in healthy people. These are being called CA-MRSA strains. There have been outbreaks among athletes and in jails.

CA-MRSA needs to be treated with an antibiotic drug. More information on CA-MRSA can be found at:

When to Call for Wound Infection

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Fever
  • Red streak runs from the wound
  • Spreading redness around the wound
  • Severe pain in the wound
  • Face wound with signs of infection
  • Finger wound and finger has sausage-shaped swelling and pain
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Pus or cloudy drainage from the wound
  • Pimple where a stitch (or staple) comes through the skin
  • Wound gets more painful or tender after 2 days
  • No past tetanus shots
  • Last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago, for DIRTY cut or scrape
  • Last tetanus shot was more than 10 years ago, for CLEAN cut or scrape
  • Taking an antibiotic for more than 3 days and wound infection is not better
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Wound doesn't look infected

Care Advice for Mild Redness of Wound

  1. What You Should Know:
    • A wound can become infected if bacteria get into the break in the skin. If a wound is infected, symptoms will appear 1-3 days after the injury.
    • Wound infections need to be treated by a doctor.
    • You can treat a wound with mild redness at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Warm Soaks or Heat: If the wound is open, soak it in warm water. Do this for 20 minutes 3 times a day. You can also use a warm wet cloth. Use a warm salt water mixture. Make this with 2 teaspoons of table salt per quart of water. If the wound is closed, put a heating pad on the red area. Do this for 20 minutes 3 times a day. You can also use a warm, moist washcloth.
  3. Antibiotic Ointment: Put this on the wound 3 times a day. If it could become dirty, cover the wound with an adhesive bandage (Band-Aid). You can also use a clean gauze.
  4. Pain Medicine:
    • You can take one of the following drugs if you have pain: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • They are over-the-counter (OTC) pain drugs. You can buy them at the drugstore.
    • Use the lowest amount of a drug that makes your pain feel better.
    • Acetaminophen is safer than ibuprofen or naproxen in people over 65 years old.
    • Read the instructions and warnings on the package insert for all medicines you take.
  5. What to Expect: Pain and swelling often are the worst on day 2. Any redness should go away within 3-4 days. You should be fully healed within 10 days.
  6. How It Is Spread: You can return to normal activities after your fever is gone and you have received antibiotics for 24 hours.
  7. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Wound becomes more tender
    • Redness starts to spread
    • Fever or the wound has pus or drainage
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.

Last Reviewed: 9/17/2019 1:00:33 AM
Last Updated: 3/14/2019 1:00:29 AM

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Wound Infection - Suture Site

There is a pimple where a stitch comes through the skin. The pimple suggests a low-grade infection.

Impetigo of Elbow

The photo shows an abrasion of elbow that has become infected with bacteria.

Lymphangitis - Left Forearm

If you look closely at this photo, you should be able to see a red streak (lymphangitis) spreading from the hand wound up into the arm.

The presence of lymphangitis means that there is an infection that needs urgent antibiotic treatment. Admission to the hospital is sometimes required.

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