Damage to any part of the body is referred to as a wound but most of us think of a wound as a break in the skin. This can happen with a blow or penetrating injury on the surface of the body. Even insect bites can cause wounds. Open sores known as ulcers can form on skin with certain diseases. In all of these wounds, the underlying tissue is exposed due to a break in the skin that normally covers and protects it.
Meaning of Wound Infection
Wound infection is when infectious agents, especially bacteria, establish itself in a wound where it can thrive and possibly cause further damage to the exposed tissue. It is one of the most common complications that can arise with a wound. An infected wound can be serious and potentially life theatening at times. The infection can be limited to the skin, extend to the underlying tissue or even spread to other sites or even throughout the body.
All wounds at risk of an infection. However, larger wounds that are not properly treated and managed are at the greatest risk of becoming infected. Furthermore, the body’s immune system protects against infections of the wound but may not always be able to keep infections at bay. This is more likely to be a concern for people with weakened immune systems. If an infection can be prevented or quickly treated, then the wound can heal faster.
Why do wounds get infected?
The microbes that infect most wounds, which is mainly bacteria, is widespread throughout all environments. Some bacteria also naturally reside on human skin but do not cause any problems on intact skin. When a wound occurs, the cause of the wound may introduce the bacteria into the tissue under the skin. For example, if a laceration (cut) occurs with a knife may then there be innoculation of the bacteria that was on the knife blade.
However, if bacteria do not enter the wound due to the cause of the wound, it can still arise though other means. Firstly, bacteria on the surrounding skin surface can enter the wound and cause an infection. Secondly, bacteria in the air or on objects that come into contact with the wound can also introduce bacteria to the wound which may then cause an infection.
The skin is a waterproof barier but when this barrier is compromised then it is quickly exposed to microbes like bacteria. It is therefore important to prevent the wound from being exposed to any substance or material that may be laden with bacteria. Even the fingers and fingernails may introduce bacteria into the wound while cleaning and dressing the wound.
Read more on scab skin wound.
Most Common Areas for Wound Infections
Wound infections can occur at any wound site anywhere on or in the body. When it comes to superficial wounds then the lower leg and feet may be more prone than other parts of the body. The slower and sluggish circulation of the lower leg and feet puts it at risk of an infection.Blood may not be distributed as quickly and effectively to the feet and legs.
Immune cells that are normally carried by the bloodstream cannot always response as effectively at teh periphery, particularly the lower leg and feet. The arms and hands are also common areas. When infected wounds occur close to the vital organs, then it is more likely that a wound infection can lead to srious complications.
How To Spot An Infected Wound
The typical signs of inflammation will be present at the site of a wound. This includes pain, tenderness, redness, swelling and heat. These signs and symptoms at the site of a wound occurs even without an infection. However, once complications like an infection arises then there may also be additional symptoms. The focus is always on preventing an infection when a wound occurs. Even with good wound care, the wound should be regularly monitored for the following signs and symptoms to ensure that an infection does not arise.
Pain and Tenderness
Although the site of wound would be painful and tender, ongoing and intensifing pain and tenderness may be a sign of infection. This can be further confirmed if the pain and tenderness gradually spreads to surrounding undamaged tissue. However, it is important to note that pain and tenderness can persist and worsen if the damaged area is repeatedly injured even without an infection.
Redness and Swelling
Redness and swelling are other signs of inflammation that would naturally occur at the site of the wound. This may extend slightly around the wound. If the wound becomes infected then this redness and swelling would persist and worsen within and around the wound. It may gradually spread further around the wound and may also infect drainage channels like lymphatic vessels.
Discharge and Odor
Pus is a more conclusive sign of an infected wound. It is typically yellow in color but can also appear brownish at times. The pus may be streaked with blood or if the wound if bleeding profusely then the pus may not be easily visible. Typically this pus has an offensive odor. Even when copious amounts of pus are not present, the offensive odor may emanate from the wound.
Poor Wound Healing
Another sign of a wound infection is that the wound does not heal as expected. Typically the wound healing is slow and sometimes may not heal at all. In fact the wound size may increase. It is important to note that delayed wound healing can occur for several reasons and not only due to a wound infection. Therefore poor wound healing with other symptoms like a yellow discharge (pus), intensifying pain and fever is more likely to be a sign of an infected wound.
Read more on non-healing wounds.
Fever and Malaise
Fever and malaise are systemic symptoms. The body temperature rises if the wound is infected. This fever may worsen as the infection worsens and especially when the infection spreads through the blood (septicemia). Malaise is another likely symptom that arises when the infection spreads from an infected wound. This feeling of being unwell tends to occur as the infection spreads and becomes systemic. Malaise may even precede a fever.