How to Tell If a Cut Is Infected: The Best Ways

Written by Russell McCarty

Having an infected wound is unhealthy for you and can cause damage to your body. Unattended cuts can sometimes get out of hand, even to the point of causing serious infection to your body. Once infection sets in, you can lose limb and even worse, your life. Therefore, knowing how to tell if a cut is infected is essential to bringing good health to your body.

Defining What An Infected Cut Is

If a part of your body is injured or there is a break anywhere in your skin, it is said you have a cut or wound. Some wounds are surgical while others can come about because of trauma such as an accident, bite, fight or someone using a weapon like a knife, stone or gun to do physical harm to you.

You can receive treatment for surgical and traumatic wounds. However, if the wound is left open and not kept clean at all times, there is a chance the wound might become infected.

See also: Homemade First Aid Kit: a Step-by-Step Guide For Keeping Yourself Safe on the Trail

If the cut is kept clean, there is a good chance it will continue the healing process, even sometimes on its own. Small wounds, like a scratch or a simple cut, can remain free of medical dressing and if kept clean will heal without stitches. However, larger wounds usually need medical attention and might require not only stitches but a tetanus shot as well.

Cuts that are not kept clean easily attract germs in the forms of bacteria, viruses and fungi, thus causing infection to occur. The infection can be only around the edges, in the entire wound or worst, spread further inside your body.

Not only can trauma wounds become infected but surgical wounds as well. A surgical cut that is infected is also called “surgical site infection”.

Germs that are microscopic are present on your skin. An open wound that breaks the skin’s top layer can leave an opening for germs to spread underneath, thus, triggering infection to develop. Once infection is present, the skin tissues will find it difficult to heal.

Your skin is a God-given barrier against bacteria, viruses and fungus. Once the skin’s surface is broken you are prone to pick up infection if you do not take proper care of the wound. If you are unaware of how to treat an infected cut then you might be asking for trouble.

How to Tell If a Cut Is Infected

  1. You get a fever. Having a fever is one way you can know your wound has reached infection stage. Signs that you are running a fever are when your body heat increase, you start experiencing a headache or you lose your appetite for food. You can start experiencing a fever after just having a surgery.
    Usually if your fever is running about 101 degrees Fahrenheit or more, it is a good chance that it is caused from the surgery you just had.
  2. Having malaise feelings. Having malaise feelings like low energy level and tiredness are good signs you have develop an infection from the wound you have. Malaise makes you feel more sleepy than usual so that you are unable to carry out your normal activity routines.
    If you tend to feel these ways often, it is time for you to visit a doctor for a physical checkup.
  3. Your cut is draining. Most wounds drain, especially after surgery. A normal wound drain will show fluid that is yellow in color. If your wound should start showing green, cloudy liquid (puss) oozing from it and carrying a foul smell then it is a good chance the wound on your body is infected.
    A visit to your health care provider can help the infected area to heal.
  4. Experiencing pain in your body. Pain is an indication that something is wrong with your body and checking it out with a qualified health practitioner can put you on the right track back to recovery.
    In addition, if you like, you can take some pain killers to ease the pain. When you start taking pain killers, you should be able to come off them in a comfortable manner over time.
    Increased pain in the area where the wound is situated is telling you that it is infected.  Furthermore, you should take life a bit easier and do without lifting heavy things so not to add added stress to your body.
  5. You have swelling and redness where the wound is. In the early stages of a wound, developing swelling and redness is ok. However, if they do not disappear over time but persist, it is a sure sign that the wound is infected. Infected wounds usually show lymphangitis, which carry radiating streaks or redness.
  6. Heat in the area that is infected. If you should feel heat coming from the cut on your body after touching it, it is because you picked up an infection. Your body heat should not be over 35 degree centigrade. Anything over 35 is enough cause for you to start taking serious precautions to cut down the fever.
    Seeing a doctor to have a look at the cut site should be foremost on your mind at this time. A wound that continues to be infected can trigger other infections in your body. Still, it is not over for you because blood cells that fight infection are present in your body that can help you to get well.
    However, if you find your body still deteriorating, it is because the infection fighting blood cells are not being effective enough. At this point you should hastily seek out your doctor for help.
  7. You experience a pricking or stinging sensation coming from the cut area. Wounds that start picking up an infection can send a message to you because of a pricking as well as stinging sensation you start experiencing coming from the area in question on your body.
    Not only will you feel this way when you touch the infected place with your finger, but also when your clothes rub against the area as well.
  8. Wound taking a longer time to heal. If your wound is taking a longer than the anticipated time to get better then chances are you are facing a sure sign of infection taking place at the cut site. This is reason for you to go see a doctor as soon as possible so that he or she can properly treat the wound.
    After treatment is given by the doctor, the next step on your part is that you should avoid getting the wound area wet so that it will heal quickly.
  9. Continuous bleeding at the wound site. If your wound continues to bleed even after applying care management, it means that there is infection present at the site. This also can be a sign that internal bleeding is going on in your body as well.

Most of the time, a wound can cause a blood vessel to burst or your organ to suffer damage and thus you will see your body continuously losing blood. If this should happen to you, contact a doctor immediately before it is too late.

In fact, if someone around you is HIV infected and their blood goes into your wound then you too can become infected as well. If you refuse to see a doctor to treat your bloody infected wound, you can die as a result of your action.

Please see tutorial above to find out even more.

How to Check A Wound

  • Wash your hands first. Apart from having a doctor check your wound, you can also do it yourself. Before checking your wound, make sure your hands are properly washed. If you handle a wound with dirty hands, you stand a good chance of causing an infection to develop. Also remember to wash your hands thoroughly as well after handling your wound.
  • Closely examine the cut. If there is a bandage on the cut, do not hastily tear it off but carefully remove it so you do not irritate the cut and cause further pain. Your next step after removing the bandage is for you to closely examine the wound to see if it is getting better or getting worst.
    However, if you should see blood showing through the bandage, do not remove it but place another bandage over the first one. On later examination of the wound a second time and if you see blood showing on both bandages, you should carefully remove them then put on a fresh bandage to cover the wound.
    Warning: Never should you reuse the bandages you removed from the cut. Instead throw them away in the garbage bin.
  • See if there are any redness or swelling. When checking for infection, look for redness or swelling in or around the wound site. If any should be seen, it is an infected wound you are looking at and special care must therefore be done to stop the infection from spreading.

How Is The Infection Diagnosed?

After visiting your doctor for him or her to have a look at your infected wound, the doctor will ask you a few questions to help determine your treatment. Before the doctor examines you, he will ask you questions such as what your medical history is like and how the wound occur.

Your wound infection can be diagnosed in three main ways such as a blood test, a wound culture and through an X-ray, MRI scan as well as CT.

  • Blood test. Upon examining your wound, the doctor might want you to do a blood test to see if the infection has spread.
  • A wound culture. To find out what is causing the infection to happen in your wound, the doctor can carry out a fluid or tissue test that is also known as a wound culture. He or she will take a sample of fluid from the wound and test it with the help of a microscope to see if any infection is present.
    If infection is present in the wound, the test can also reveal the organism type that is causing the problem.
  • X-ray, MRI scan and CT. On your visit to the doctor, he or she might want to see what is happening inside your body and hence might set up an x-ray, MRI scan or CT for you. The x-ray, MRI or CT will reveal if bones or tissues in the area of the wound are infected.
    If the wound on your body has any foreign objects present in it, it will show up as well. If the doctor asks you to take a dye so that the pictures can show clearly and you are allergic to dye, go ahead and let the doctor know.
    In addition, before entering the MRI room, you should remove all metals from your body. If you do not remove the metals, you are risking causing serious injury to yourself.

Risk Factors and Wound Infection

Certain diseases affecting your body, such as diabetes, liver problems, cancer, and problems with the lungs can stop an infection from getting better. Being HIV positive can also increase your chances of dying if your wound is not cared for by qualified medical personnel. In addition, if your body is malnourished, the chances of you contracting an infection in your wound will increase as well.

See also: Hiking 101: Things You Need to Know Before You Head Out

Furthermore, if you have a weak immune system struggling with, your cut will take longer to heal. Other conditions that can increase the risk of a cut infection not getting better are continuous trauma to the wound site, poor blood circulation reaching the wounded area and foreign objects such as wood or glass splinters getting into the cut.

What to Do If You Have Severe Infection

A severe infection can affect you in various ways such as you may feel very dizzy or weak. Having a fever is another sign of a severe infection taking its toll on your body.

Below are some things you can do to keep safe and help your body heal if you should see signs of severe infection taking place.

  • Do not drive. If you should be feeling dizzy or feverish because of an infected wound on your body, you should not drive yourself go anywhere. Instead take a taxi or ask a family member or friend to chauffer you to your doctor’s office or other places where you want to go.
  • See a doctor as soon as possible. Once you get a wound and you start to experience fever or dizziness, you should stop what you are doing and head straight for the doctor.
    Do not make the mistake of trying to diagnose yourself based on what you learn on the internet because your diagnostic can be wrong. Therefore, a doctor is the right person to give you a proper diagnosis of what is happening in your body and what you should do to stop the infection. This is especially important for you if you are diabetic, HIV positive or malnourished.
  • Consider treating the infection with antibiotics. If you should see signs of infections covering the wound area on your body or feel feverish and dizzy, consider taking some antibiotics to fight the attack of bacteria, virus as well as fungus from doing any more harm to you.

In addition, your antibiotic tablet or ointment is just the right treatments to stop an angry inflammation in its tracks.

However, to not harm your body, make sure the antibiotic or ointment is recommended by a medical practitioner.

Tips to Heal Infected Wounds

  • Clean the wound. To try to stop the spread of infection and for the wound to start healing, you should use a mild solution to clean it out. Since your body has an internal PH, you can use a saline solution mixed with a little salt to cleanse the wound area.
    In addition, a mild soap with clean water works well to cleanse the wound site. To get the wound dry after washing with soap and water, use clean gauze and gently sap it.
  • Apply some pressure to the wounded area. If after getting a wound and bleeding persists, press against the wound and apply pressure to it. If you do not stop the bleeding in time, you might develop anemia that can easily weaken your immune system. After covering the wound and giving it a clean dressing, you should apply pressure for about five minutes or so. If bleeding persists, you should head for the doctor straight away.
  • Cover the wound. If the wound is moist, to stop infection it is best that you cover the wound so that dirt particles traveling through the atmosphere do not get into it. Once the wound is kept moist, it will heal in about 10 to 15 days or so.
    This is because once it is covered; tissue and new skin will begin to grow over the area faster than when the wound is uncovered and exposed.

See tutorial below about how to treat an infected cut.

Take your care to the next level by attending immediately to any fresh wound you receive on your body. By paying strict attention to the cut, you are limiting the possibilities of developing an infection. Before you leave home, make sure to read our tips on how to choose the best first aid kit to take with you.


Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.