Spotting Signs of Infection in a Wound

By Bill, posted
When somebody suffers a cut or graze there is always a risk that the associated wound can become infected. Cleaning the wound is a very good preventative measure, but if the wound was not cleaned and is already infected then hindsight will not be of any use. 
Instead action can be taken to spot the main signs and symptoms of infection before getting the infected wound assessed by a medical professional. 


Knowing what causes infections can be quite useful when analysing your own or someone else's injury. Infections are generally caused by bacteria building up within the wound and then multiplying. This is more prone to happen in the below situations:
  • Animal bites
  • Dirt and debris entered the wound 
  • Penetrating object was rusty / dirty 
  • Person suffers with diabetes or has a weakened immune system

Helpful hint - Clean a wound with warm, soapy water straight after the accident has taken place

Signs of Infection

Let's remember that not all wounds will become infected. The human body is adapted to healing at a fast pace and fighting off any harmful bacteria. However there are some tell tale signs (below) which will give an indication that the wound has become infected:
  • Pus - thick yellowish / greenish liquid leaving the wound
  • Yellow scab forming around the wound 
  • Painful? - Appearing to get worse and not better
  • Fever 
  • Swollen lymph node closest to the wound
  • Soft scab - increases in size
  • Red streak leaving the wound - pointing towards the heart

Helpful hint - It’s safer to visit your GP if you are uncertain on the signs but feel that the wound may be infected.


Once a wound has become infected it falls outside the scope of direct treatment from a first aider. However indirect treatment can be given by spotting the signs of infection, and then signposting the casualty towards professional help.

An infected wound will typically need a course of antibiotics to fully heal, or in more serious cases hospital treatment. It’s best to direct the person towards any of the below medical options:
  1. GP appointment
  2. Urgent Care Centre
  3. Telephone 111

Helpful hint - 111 is the non-emergency number operated by the NHS. They can screen all types of injury / illness and get emergency care if required.

When to call 999

In the most extreme cases the body may overreact to an infected wound, causing a life threatening condition called sepsis. In this situation it is important to dial 999 / 112 straight away, or seek emergency treatment at the nearest Accident & Emergency unit. Look out for the below signs / symptoms of sepsis:
  • Casualty keeps vomiting
  • Feels seriously unwell
  • Failure to urinate all day (12 hours for infants / young children)
  • Fever, shivering, or in extremes in body temperature
Sepsis can be hard to spot because it has similar symptoms to many other conditions such as influenza. However, the knowledge that a casualty has an infected wound at the same time can be used in conjunction with the symptoms to prompt urgent medical care.

Photo by Viktor Forgacs

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