Skin plays an important role in protecting the body against infection; see skin and infection. When there is a burn the risk of infection increases depending on the degree of the burn, location of the burn and the general condition of the patient.
Risk factors for developing an infection in a burn wound may include:
- Improper wound care.
- Extremes of age because of lower immunity.
- Associated diseases like diabetes.
- Full thickness burns.
- Burns that involve more than 30% of the total body surface area (TBSA).
- Burns in the perineum.
Infection is the most common complication of burns and is the major cause of death in burn victims, it can happen in the hospital or at home; it can be local (at the site of the burn)or systemic (spreading of infection to other areas in the body which may lead to septicemia and organ failure). It is important to contact your doctor immediately when you observe any of the signs and/or symptoms of infection.
Signs and symptoms of infection may include:
- Increased redness in or around the wound.
- Increased swelling in or around the wound.
- Increased or persistent pain.
- Increased drainage from the wound.
- Change in the color of the drainage (green discharge or pus).
- Foul smell from the wound.
- Heavy bleeding soaking the bandage.
- Chills or fever (usually greater than 101.5 degrees F).
- Persistent vomiting or diarrhea.
Burn wound infection prevention:
- Keep the burned area clean.
- Look for any signs or symptoms of infection during dressing change.
- Follow a strict sterile protocol during wound dressing change (see home wound care).
- It’s important in infants to observe any change in the appearance of wound or change in activity level (not playful, fails to hold eye contact, lethargic) children can’t express what they feel. Contact the doctor immediately if you observe any sign or symptom of infection.
- Topical antibiotic ointments may be prescribed as a prophylactic (preventive) measure in burned patients.
- Infection delays wound healing, encourages scarring (as a result of collagen deposition in reaction to the infection) and may result in bacteremia and organ failure (systemic infection).
This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.