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  • Wound Infection


    • A break in the skin (a wound) shows signs of infection
    • Signs of infection include pus, spreading redness, increased pain or swelling, and fever
    • Includes infected cuts, scrapes, sutured wounds, puncture wounds and animal bites
    • Most dirty wounds become infected 24 to 72 hours later


    • Pus or cloudy fluid is draining from the wound
    • A pimple or yellow crust has formed on the wound
    • The scab has increased in size
    • Increasing redness occurs around the wound
    • A red streak is spreading from the wound toward the heart
    • The wound has become very tender
    • Pain or swelling is increasing 48 hours after the wound occurred
    • A fever occurs
    • The wound hasn’t healed within 10 days after the injury

    Return to School

    • For true wound infections, your child can return after the fever is gone. Your child should also be taking an antibiotic by mouth for 24 hours.

    When to Call Us for Wound Infections

    Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If:

    • Not moving or too weak to stand
    • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency

    Call Us Now (night or day) If:

    • Your child looks or acts very sick
    • Fever occurs
    • Red streak runs from the wound
    • Spreading redness around the wound
    • Severe pain in the wound
    • Any face wound with signs of infection
    • You think your child needs to be seen urgently

    Call Us Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If:

    • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
    • Pus or cloudy discharge from the wound
    • Wound gets more painful or tender after 2 days (48 hours)

    Call Us During Weekday Office Hours If:

    • Pimple where a stitch comes through the skin
    • You have other questions or concerns

    Parent Care at Home If:

    • Mild redness of wound

    Care Advice for Mild Redness of Wound

    What You Should Know:

    • Some pink or red skin on the edge of the wound is normal.
    • It’s more common if the wound is sutured.
    • It’s also normal for it to be swollen for a few days.
    • Your child’s wound is not infected unless the redness spreads or pain increases.
    • Here is some care advice that should help

    Warm Soaks or Warm Wet Cloth:

    • For any redness or other signs of early infection, use heat.
    • For open cuts or scrapes, soak it in warm water. You can also put a warm wet cloth on the wound. Do this for 10 minutes 3 times per day. Use a warm saltwater solution. You can make your own. Put 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of table salt in a quart (liter) of warm water.
    • For closed or sutured cuts, put a heating pad on the wound. You can also use a warm, moist washcloth. Do this for 10 minutes 3 times per day.
    • Cautions for sutured wounds. Do not put anything wet on the wound for first 24 hours. After 24 hours, can take brief showers. Never soak the wound before all sutures are removed.

    Antibiotic Ointment:

    • Use an antibiotic ointment such as Polysporin.
    • No prescription is needed.
    • Put it on the wound 3 times a day.
    • If the area could become dirty, cover with a Band-Aid.

    Pain Medicine:

    • To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed. See Dose Table.


    • For fevers above 102° F (39° C), give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. See Dose Table.
    • Note: Lower fevers are important for fighting infections.
    • For ALL fevers: Keep your child well hydrated. Give lots of cold fluids.
    • For babies, dress lightly. Don’t wrap in too many blankets. Reason: Can make the fever higher.

    What to Expect:

    • Pain and swelling normally peak on day 2.
    • Any redness should go away by day 4.
    • Complete healing should occur by day 10.

    Return to School:

    • For true wound infections, your child can return after the fever is gone. Your child should also be taking an antibiotic by mouth for 24 hours.
    • For minor redness around the wound, your child does not need to stay home.

    Call Doctor If:

    • Wound becomes more painful
    • Redness starts to spread
    • Pus or fever occurs
    • Your child becomes worse

    Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

    Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
    Copyright 1994-2013 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

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