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​Is this infected?

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​This is a frequently asked question of high school athletic trainers. Some cuts and abrasions may have no signs of infection. Others may have been infected for some time and in need of some form of medical attention. Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of infection can help coaches, parents and student athletes prevent wound infection and know what to do when it occurs.

Signs of infection may include:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • heat (increased temperature at wound site)
  • pain and tenderness
  • formation of pus

If the infection is worsening, contact a medical care provider for evaluation. Symptoms may​ include:

  • increased swelling
  • red streaks traveling away from the wound
  • foul smelling or increasing amounts of draining pus and fluid
  • fever, chills, nausea or vomiting
  • swollen lymph nodes throughout the body

Soap and water can go a long way in helping to prevent infection. 

To clean y​our wound:

1. Wash your hands.

2. Clean the wound site as soon as possible.

  • Wipe the wound clean using a wet paper towel or wash cloth with soap.
  • Wipe the wound from the middle to the outside. This moves the debris away from the center of the wound.
  • Make sure the wound is free of debris and dirt.
  • Rinse the wound well with water and blot dry with a towel.​

3. Cover the wound with a sterile dressing. You may use an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment, if desired.

4. Clean and inspect the wound daily for signs of infection.

Hydrogen peroxide may be thought a first-line treatment. It can help, and hurt.

Hydrogen peroxide can be used for the initial cleaning of a wound, such as a small scrape or abrasion. Its bubbling action helps remove debris that may be stuck in the wound. But it should not be used for large open wounds or deep cuts, or for a long time.

Hydrogen peroxide works by killing bacteria, whether it is “good” healing bacteria or “bad” infection-causing bacteria. Using hydrogen peroxide for a long time may kill the “good” healing bacteria and inhibit the new growth of tissue, slowing down the healing process.

Should the wound become infected, treat it before the infection gets worse or spreads. If the infection begins to worsen, see a medical provider for evaluation and treatment. Antibiotics or other medical treatment may be prescribed.

While the wound heals, wash your hands before and after you touch the affected area. Keep the wound clean and covered to prevent debris, dirt or bacteria from entering the skin break. An over-the-counter antibiotic wound ointment may be sufficient treatment for a wound without worsening symptoms.

A simple cut can become dangerous without proper care. An infection can spread through your entire body and can become resistant to medication. Such is the case with methicillin-resistant , also known as MRSA, a form of staph infection resistant to the medicine used to treat it.

Infections can spread quickly through the tight quarters of the locker room and the bench if proper hygiene and prevention guidelines are not followed. To prevent infection, keep a wound clean and covered. Look at it daily to make sure it is healing without infection.

Share comments or questions on this information. E-mail sports.medicine@marshfieldclinic.org​.