Infected Wounds

Most people are surrounded by germs most of the time. But this isn’t cause for concern—the body is very good at warding off illness. Most of the time, people don’t even notice. However, the first line of defense against infection is the skin, and when that is breached—when a wound or injury happens—the danger increases. When bacteria enters a wound, the immune system normally springs into action. When the immune system is compromised, or even just overwhelmed, however, the result is an infection that can, depending on what and where the infection is, can be anywhere from unpleasant to deadly.

That’s because wound infection can cause sepsis, inflammation over the entire body that results from the immune system kicking into high gear to fight a particularly strong bacterial barrage. However, the inflammation itself can cause organ and tissue damage throughout the body. That is why it is important to take steps to avoid infection. In hospitals—where a "e;wound,"e; often deliberately inflicted in the form of surgery, may be sizable, and the patient’s immune system is likely to be compromised due to illness or aspects of the surgery, steps are taken to avoid sepsis. Wounds in other settings are likely smaller, but in the absence of such precautions as incisions made with careful attention, and in clean rooms, more effort may be needed after the fact.

Cuts and scrapes are common types of injuries—in fact, someone who has a scrape or even a cut may not even notice until it scabs over. Puncture wounds are less common, but not unknown. In either case, it is necessary for the bleeding to be stopped before the wound is cleaned. Bleeding itself is a part of the defense against infection, washing out the initial wave of bacteria. After cleaning the wound, antibiotic cream is applied to get rid of bacteria, and a dressing or bandage provides protection.

Even with precautions such as these taken, infection is still possible. Most infection is minor and passes within a few days, but in some cases people with infected wounds require medical attention. Infection can be spotted under the dressing. Infection is likely present when the wound is red, painful, or swollen, or smells foul. Bleeding after the wound should have scabbed, or pus coming out, may also be an indicator of infection. In addition, a person with an infected would may complain of dizziness, or have a fast heartbeat.

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