Human skin is a surprisingly flexible, resilient organ. It is also our primary interface with the external environment. Skin is literally the first line of defense against a wide array of potential threats from the environment. Although it is thin enough and sensitive enough to allow us to detect the lightest of touches, it is also strong enough to protect us from the elements. Intact skin plays an important role in protecting us from germs that might cause infection. Germs may include bacteria, fungi, or even viruses.
When the skin is broken, after receiving a cut, for example, germs quickly gain entry. They quickly multiply. The immune system activates almost immediately in response to a cut, nick, or abrasion. Some immune system components work to stop the bleeding, while others rally aggressive defender cells and substances to help fight off invaders.
In many cases, the body is able to repair the damage and fend off infection. But sometimes, infection takes hold, the invading bacteria multiply, and the wound is unable to heal properly. An infected wound may fester, which increases the danger of subsequent damage to other parts of the body.
How to Tell If a Cut Is Infected
There are a number of tell-tale signs that your cut may be infected:
- The surrounding area becomes red, and this area gets larger over time
- The area surrounding the wound becomes swollen, tender to the touch, or painful
- The wound weeps off-color or odorous fluid; this pus may be yellow, greenish, or cloudy
- Red streaks spread out from the site of the wound
- The patient develops a fever (especially above 100.4° F)
- Lymph nodes become enlarged
Wound Care and Prevention
The best way to prevent your cut from becoming infected in the first place is to wash the wound thoroughly, as soon as possible. Remove any debris that may have become lodged in the wound (scraped knees, for example, almost always contain dirt and grit). Wash with soap and running water, and dry with a clean, preferably sterile cloth (consider using an unopened gauze from the drug store). Dress lightly with a bandage to prevent further contamination of the wound site. Monitor the progress of healing carefully and watch for signs of infection (see above).
It should be noted that infection can occur following any break in the skin. This includes common events, such as getting a tattoo, getting a skin piercing, having stitches, vigorously scratching an itch (to the point of breaking the skin), or being stung or bitten by an insect or other animal.
How to Treat an Infected Cut
Oftentimes oral or topical antibiotics or anti-fungal medications are prescribed to treat an infected cut. If a patient develops a fever of 100.4° F or higher, it is important to seek medical attention promptly. Similarly, red streaks radiating from a wound site could signal a dangerous progression of infection and should be seen by your Primary Care Physician or a provider at PhysicianOne Urgent Care immediately.
Untreated infected wounds can leave a scar, at best, or lead to more serious complications — including death — at worst. The first human being ever to be treated with penicillin, for example, eventually died from an infected puncture wound that had resulted from a run-in with a rose thorn. Although the patient initially responded to the then-new wonder drug, there was not yet enough of the antibiotic available to effectively treat his infection.
This anecdote underscores the potential seriousness of a “simple” infected cut. Fortunately, today’s patients typically benefit from ready access to effective prescription antibiotics. We do face a similar challenge, however, in that the rise of antibiotic-resistant methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) poses a serious challenge for modern medicine. MRSA is becoming increasingly common, and requires prompt, aggressive medical attention to prevent serious, progressive infection.
When to Seek Treatment for An Infected Cut at PhysicianOne Urgent Care
If you or someone you know has an open wound and experiences the above symptoms, it is important to be evaluated right away to prevent serious complications from an infection. PhysicianOne Urgent Care is here 7 days per week for high-quality urgent care, at a fraction of the cost of the Emergency Room. Contact us at 1.855.349.2828, or stop in today for a convenient, walk-in visit. If you’re looking to save time, find a location near you and check in online today!