How to treat an infected wound

How to treat an infected wound

Getting injured goes hand in hand with our way of life. I dropped an oil drum on the tip of my big toe last month, and the nail is slowly growing out the horrific black bruising. I’ve had thorns embedded deep in my hands from gardening (one even punctured my gloves), and I’ve had more than my fair share of blisters, scrapes, cuts and bruises. But here’s the thing. Every time you injure yourself and break your skin, you run the risk of an infection. The dirt, debris, bacteria, and a host of other nasties see it as an opportunity to get into your body and wreak havoc on your system. In normal life, you’ve always got a doctor on call. But when the SHTF you need to know how to properly treat an infected wound.

Of course, it should go without saying that in an ideal world, you’ll never get injured. So this entire article will be moot. But the reality is that the world we live in is less than ideal, and if you’re a bit of a klutz like me, a little first aid knowledge can go a long way, and a good first aid kit really can save your life. 

Wash the wound out

Infections get started when foreign materials enter your body. So it makes logical sense that if you do get injured you need to properly wash the site of the wound. To flush out any dirt, debris or whatever else might be trapped within. To do this right, you want a pressurized source of water, like a tap or a hose. Or puncture the top of a plastic water bottle and squeeze it through. Just make sure the water you’re using is clean. Or relatively clean. Any natural source, like a river or a lake may have bacteria that’ll be even worse. So boil and sterilize it first. Then just let it get cool to the touch before using it to wash the wound. If anything is stuck inside, disinfect a pair of tweezers in alcohol and pull it out. The cleaner you can get it at the first stage, the better your chances of beating any infection.

Disinfect the wound

Next, you’ve got to properly disinfect the wound. This is important, because if an infection forms the flesh will not heal back together. Plus you’ll want to avoid the terrible times of trying to fight off an infection without proper medical care, so better to disinfect it thoroughly. Clean the area around the wound with antiseptic wipes, and find something that’ll kill off any bad bacteria inside. Isopropyl alcohol is great for this, and even antiseptic mouthwash will work. Vodka or any other spirit can kill many of the bacteria you’re worried about, and if you’ve got nothing, look for honey. It’s a mild antiseptic that’s been used for centuries, and there’s studies that even sugar can help lower the pH of a wound. It can sting when you put this into the wound, so brace yourself for the pain!

Seal the wound

Depending on the depth of the wound, you’re going to have to seal it. Deep wounds will require stitches, which is a whole other ball game. You’ll need to use a disinfected bit of mono line, along with a curved needle to pull the skin together. Don’t tie each stitch too tight (I’ll cut circulation in the cells and cause more problems), and knot each of the stitches separately. Medical-grade superglue is an alternative, as well as stuffing a heap of sterilized cloth (clean gauze is the preferred), into the area surrounding the wound and bandaging it tight. You will need to change the bandaging every day, and pay attention for any signs that an infection has developed, despite the efforts you’ve taken so far.

What an infection looks like

Swelling and redness are the two tell-tale signs that a wound isn’t healing right. You’ll also notice that it’s throbbing, it’ll be painful to the touch, and you might be experiencing chills and a fever as well. None of these are good signs. There will be pus, leaking out of the site of the wound which is your body’s way of telling you that something bad is happening. The wound will also smell bad, and if the infection has really taken hold you might notice the lines of “redness” (for lack of a better word) spreading towards your torso. Immediate action needs to be taken at this point, or you risk losing your life to the infection.

Fixing an infection

The good news though, is most infections can be cleaned up with a little topical care, and a good set of antibiotics. If you’re at this stage, you’re going to need to do a course of doxy or cipro, which are both potent enough to knock most infections like this on their head. Key is to start the antibiotics early (I’d take these even as a precautionary measure if you’ve got some to spare), especially if it was a rather large wound. If there’s stitches in the wound, you’ll need to cut these out, flush out the infection and disinfect it all over again. It’ll hurt like hell, but you want it to be as clean as possible in there. It won’t have an immediate effect, but within 24-48 hours you should see the swelling going down, and over a course of 5 days of antibiotics it should be mostly cleared up.

When the chaos of a real SHTF event hits, you need to be prepared for anything. A small scrape, no matter how inconsequential at first can actually lead to much bigger problems down the line if an infection sets in. Understanding the right way to care for a wound will not only help you be a better survivalist, it’ll ensure you’re able to care for anyone in your party who has been injured. That’s a valuable skill to have.


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