Wound Infection: Causes, Treatment and Complications

A wound is an internal or external break in body tissues; it is an injury that is caused by a blow, cut or puncture and it affects the surface of the skin mostly.

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There are many types of wound like scrapes, cuts, puncture wounds, incisions, pressure sores, minor and major burns; and it comes along with uncomfortable symptoms like swelling, redness, tenderness, pain, pus, inflammation and bleeding.

If wounds are not cleaned and covered properly and properly taken care of by a medical personnel, it can lead to wound infection which is very discomforting and can have serious health complications. Common sense, good hygiene, intake of healthy foods, fruits and vegetables, good management of the wound and taking the antibiotics as prescribed by a doctor will help the wound heal fast and prevent wound infection.

An infected wound is a wound that bacteria or other microorganisms have colonized, causing either a delay in the healing of the wound or deterioration of the wound; wound infection can also occur when the body’s natural immune defenses are overwhelmed and cannot cope with normal bacterial growth.

Signs and symptoms of wound infection are severe pain, fever, red steaks in the skin around the wound, discolouration of the skin, fatigue, lack of energy, redness, swelling, hot incision site, change in size and colour of the wound, refusal of the wound to heal and plenty pus that is cloudy, green and have a foul smell. Many things can lead to a wound infection but we will be looking at three main causes:

  1. Certain illnesses: Certain illnesses and medical conditions can lead to non-healing wounds and result in an infection especially if poor circulation of blood is involved; diseases like diabetes, varicose veins, obesity, peripheral artery disease and Raynaud’s disease. Increasing the circulation of blood can prevent this from happening; frequent exercise and elevating wounds or limbs in general can help to improve blood circulation.
  2. Some drugs: Drugs can also impair or slow the healing of wounds and this can also lead to an infection; drugs like cytotoxic antineoplastic and immunosuppressive agents, corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and anticoagulants, the best thing to do is to stop taking the drugs and let your wound heal but you need to do this under the supervision of a medical doctor.
  3. This is the main cause of wound infections: it happens when bacteria enter inside the body through the torn skin part and cause lots of damages and health problems in the body. The most common microbes that cause wound infections are Staphylococcus aureus/MRSA, Streptococcus pyogenes, Enterococci and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

When a wound is sustained it is advised to seek medical attention immediately no matter how minor it is so that infections can be prevented. If you sustain an injury and you don’t have access to a medical doctor or facility, they are some natural things you can do to stop the pain and bleeding and hasten healing.

Wash:

The first thing to do when you have a wound is to clean it; wash it under clean running water to ensures proper cleaning which promotes optimal healing. The water you use to  wash a wound should be drinkable, you can also use filtered or distilled water; if these are not available, then you can use boiled tap water but make sure the water is clean so that the wound won’t be infected.

You can also wash the area using a mild soap to for 10 minutes to remove dirt, bacteria and debris, if you don’t have a mild soap, there special wound cleaners you can get a pharmacy which you can use; you can apply a moderate pressure when doing it. When you are done, pat it gently with a clean towel to dry it, and then cover it with a bandage or sterile dressing.

Ice treatment:

Before you cover it with a bandage, you can apply ice to reduce swelling and pain. Other things that can reduce swelling and pain are witch hazel and lavender oil; lavender oil will also promote fast healing. Soak a neat cloth in either witch hazel or lavender oil and apply to the wound.

Coconut oil:

You can also apply coconut oil, it is a wonderful wound healer due to its powerful anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, moisturizing and healing properties; it heals wounds, prevents scarring and keeps infection at bay. Apply little quantity of extra virgin coconut oil on the wound, put a bandage over it to lock in the moisture, after 3 hours change the bandage and reapply coconut oil. Repeat this process several times a day to promote healing and prevent infection and scarring.

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Garlic:

Garlic is a powerful wound treatment, for years this powerful spice has been used to heal wounds; its powerful anti-microbial and anti-biotic properties stops bleeding, reduces pain, promotes healing and boosts the immune system to prevent infection. After cleaning the wound with water, crush few cloves of garlic and apply it on the wound; the bleeding and pain will stop immediately.

For fast healing crush few cloves of garlic till it forms a paste, spread it on a piece of sterile gauze and put it over the wound. Wrap a sterile bandage around it and leave it for 20 minutes then you rinse it off with clean warm water. Repeat it twice daily until the wound heals.

Aloe vera gel:

Aloe vera gel is also great for this, it has been uses to treat wounds for thousands of years; it has strong soothing, anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. This gel is rich in phytochemicals which ease pains, reduce inflammation, increases the moisture content of the skin and aids fast healing.

Cut a fresh aloe vera leaf and cut it open to extract the gel; apply this gel on the wound and let it dry on its own. When dried, clean the area with clean warm water and dry it with a clean soft towel. Put another aloe vera gel again and repeat this process several times a day till the wound is healed. Seek a doctor’s advised before putting it on a surgical wound.

Plantain leaves:

Plantain leaves can also be used for wound treatment because they are loaded with anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help to heal wounds. It even reduces pain and itching. Pound few fresh leaves of plantain till it forms a paste and then apply it on the wound and let it dry. Rinse it off with warm water. Repeat several times a day for effective result and quick recovery.

Honey:

You can also apply pure undiluted honey to the wound as some studies have actually proved that honey is more effective in killing off bacteria that causes wound infections than most anti-biotics. It speeds up the healing process and prevents infection from happening in the first place when used to dress the wound immediately one injures. You can spread it on a dressing and apply it to the wound. If the wound is deep, the wound bed should be filled with honey then wrap it with a dressing pad.

Potato:

Another wonderful wound treatment is raw potato poultice; when applied over the wound, it moisturizes the wound and promotes quick healing. Grate 1 or 2 raw potato and spread them on a clean cloth; put it on the wound and leave it for 4 hours. Then you remove it and wash it with clean warm water. Then you reapply a fresh potato poultice and repeat this process every day until the wound is healed.

Avoid alcohol and hydrogen peroxide:

Don’t use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol to wash your wound because they will interfere with the healing process by slowing the rate of healing and reducing the capacity of the body to fight off the infection. They will also kill the white blood cells which help in fighting off infection and they dehydrate the skin making it dry.

Change the dressing regularly:

Another thing you should not forget to do is to regularly change the dressing and bandage of the wound to encourage fast healing. Don’t use a dressing that sticks to the wound, this will cause further injury when you want to remove it.

Don’t touch the wound:

The only time you are permitted to touch a wound is when you are cleaning it, applying ointments or healing gels or changing the bandage, apart from that it is not advisable to touch a wound even if it is itching you; and do not pick or peel your wounds; this will delay healing and deepen the scar. Also remember to wash your hands before and after touching a wound.

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See a doctor:

Doing all these should still not stop you from meeting a doctor to check your wound; he can know if you are recovering or getting better and if not he knows what to do to save your life. If you are prescribed antibiotics take them and don’t forget to eat well to strengthen your immune system and make the antibiotics work well.

Health dangers of wound infections

If a wound is left untreated and infection sets in, it can lead to health problems and complications; that is why it is not advised to leave a wound unchecked and untreated. Below are some of the medical complications and problems that can occur if wound infection sets it. Wound infection can lead to these:

Non-healing wound:

A wound infection can lead to a non-healing wound; a non-healing wound or a chronic wound is a wound that does not heal or improve after four to eight weeks of treatment, its symptoms are increased pain, oozing from the wound, an odour coming from the wound and redness and warmth around the wound.

Tetanus:

Tetanus infection also known as “lockjaw” is caused by a bacterium Clostridium tetani; when this bacterium enters the body through open and untreated wounds, it produces toxins that goes straight to the brain and nervous system and affects them.

The toxin interferes with muscle contractions and it causes muscle spasm. Symptoms of tetanus are sweating, high temperature, headache, fast heartbeat, hypertension and trouble swallowing.

This spasm usually begins at the jaw and progress to the rest of the body and severe spasm can cause bone fracture. If the patient is treated properly it will take months for him/her to recover but about 10% of people affected by this die.

Gangrene:

Also known as “tissue death”, it occurs when the tissues of the body dies. It is mainly caused by poor circulation of blood and oxygen but infection by bacteria can also cause it and it requires urgent medical attention. Symptoms of gangrene are change in the colour of the skin to red or black, numbness, pain, swelling, coolness and breakdown of the skin.

Secondary Impetigo:

This is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the skin; it is also caused by staphylococcus aureus bacteria, it usually appears as red sores on the affected skin part, the sores burst and develop honey coloured sores.

Symptoms are red sores that easily ruptures, it ooze for a few days and then starts bringing out a yellowish brown crust.

Sepsis:

Sepsis or blood poisoning is a life threatening condition that can be caused by wound infection; it happens when the wound gets infected and the infection enters the body and bloodstream, the body releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight the infection, this causes an inflammatory reaction all throughout the whole body.

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This triggers lots of changes in the body that can damage the organs and cause them to fail. If the situation is not arrested immediately, it can lead to septic shock, sharp drop in blood pressure and this will lead to death.

Cellulitis:

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the skin and tissues beneath the surface of the skin. Two main bacteria are responsible for cellulitis; they are Staphylococcus aureus and streptococcus aureus.

Signs and symptoms of cellulitis are redness, pain and tenderness of the affected part, feeling of heat in the affected area and swelling.  If it is not treated properly it can spread from the site of infection into the bloodstream or to other tissues or organs of the body and this can be life threatening. This infection can be treated with oral or intravenous antibiotics which clears it within 10 to 14 days.

Abscess:

Abscess also known as boil is characterized by pocket of pus around the wound, it can appear above or beneath the surface of the skin and it can be painful, swollen and filled with pus.

It is caused by Staphylococcus aureus; the signs and symptoms are retention of fluid in the boil, inflamed skin, and swelling, lesions on the skin, chills, nausea and fever. The area around the abscess will be painful and hot when touched. Draining the abscess and antibiotics are the treatment for abscess.

Amputation:

This is a last choice option for a damaged organ or body part that is caused by infection; When infections worsens and it is not arrested immediately or properly treated, it can lead to irreversible death or damage of tissue or body part and the best that can be done is to remove that part surgically.

Necrotizing fasciitis:

This is a very rare medical condition but it can be caused by an infected wound; it is caused by flesh eating bacteria like Streptococcus (group A strep), Klebsiella, Clostridium, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Aeromonas hydrophila.

It starts sudden and severe and spreads rapidly, this infection can be deadly in a very short period of time; it can be fatal if not treated promptly, it results in the death of the body’s soft tissue at the site of infection and beyond. Symptoms of this infection are red or purple skin in the affected part, fever, vomiting and severe pain.

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