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How can I tell if a cut is infected?

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Updated January 24, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

MRSA picture

Skin infections like this MRSA only need a small cut to begin growing.

Image courtesy of CDC/Bruno Coignard, M.D.; Jeff Hageman, M.H.S.

Question: How can I tell if a cut is infected?

An infected cut can lead to a serious illness if left untreated. In many cases, skin infections like staph, strep or MRSA get started from the tiniest of cuts. Even a little cut that doesn't need stitches can cause big problems if it gets infected. So, how can you tell if a cut is infected?

Answer: To tell if a cut is infected, look for these signs:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Local fever (the cut feels hot compared to areas around it)
  • Draining pus (the cut is oozing thick, goopy stuff)

The worst case scenario is that an infected cut becomes a full-body (systemic) infection. To tell if you are developing a bigger infection, look for:

  • Fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Body aches
  • Nausea

If you have an infected cut or are developing a systemic infection, see a doctor. Once a cut gets infected, you're going to need a doctor's help.

To avoid an infected cut, it's important to keep cuts clean as they heal. Soap and water is all you need. Whether you use an antibiotic ointment or not is up to you, but there's really no need. It helps to cover a cut with an adhesive bandage, but remember to change the bandage every day and wash the cut.

 

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