Medical basics: Wound infections

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image by TimmyGUNZ
image by TimmyGUNZ

As a physician, I have on occasion dealt with infected wounds, sometimes from injury and also after surgical procedures. In a survival setting, most wounds will be contaminated with debris, dirt, and bacteria.  Therefore, anyone who will be medically responsible after a disaster occurs may expect to deal with wound infections.  The ability to recognize and treat infected injuries will be an important one to have in times of trouble.

Recognizing a wound infection

The human body is a miracle of engineering.  Our immune system probably nips many contaminations in the bud, but a body under stress sometimes can’t effectively fight germs. This explains why certain people, such as diabetics, are so prone to wound infections.  The elderly are especially susceptible.

Your skin is its own ecosystem, with bacteria that naturally live there, such as Staph. Epidermidis. When the immune system fails to recognize and fight an infection, even “normal” skin bacteria can invade deep wounds and cause serious damage.  Delays in healing and even invasion of the circulation can lead to life-threatening conditions.

To identify an infected wound, look for these signs:

  •         Redness around the edges which spreads over time
  •         Swelling around the wound, sometimes appearing shiny
  •         Warmth in the area of the wound compared to other parts of the body
  •         Pain out of proportion to the size of the wound
  •         Drainage of fluid or pus from the wound, which can have a foul odor
  •         Lack of healing over time

Red, swollen, warm skin around the wound is referred to as “Cellulitis”.  If the wound is deep enough, the bone and its marrow can become infected, which is known as “Osteomyelitis”.  Once the bacteria invades the circulation, the entire body is affected. We called this “Septocemia” or “Sepsis”. Septic patients or those with osteomyelitis commonly have fevers to go along with the above-listed signs and symptoms.

Preventing Wound Infections

Proper wound care and frequent dressing changes are the cornerstones to preventing wound infections. In the healing process, new cells fill in an open wound by a process known as “Granulation”.  These new cells need a moist environment for rapid growth, and so any deep wound should have a sterile moist (not soaking wet) bandage.

Although  iodine or saline solutions are often used to moisten the bandage, recent evidence suggests that sterilized drinkable water is probably as good or better. The moist bandage is then covered with a dry dressing. Oftentimes, triple antibiotic cream is applied to the skin (only) before taping the dressing into place.  Mark the bandage with the time and date it was placed.

Wound dressings should be changed at least once or twice daily. Sanitary precautions such as hand-washing, sterilized instruments, and glove usage will significantly decrease the risks of infection.

Treating Wound Infections

The most common cause of serious wound infections is the bacteria Staph. Aureus, although Group A Strep, Pseudomonas, and various intestinal bacteria are other micro-organisms commonly seen. An especially troublesome form of Staph. Aureus has shown resistant to the usual antibiotics used.  This is called Methicillin Resistant Staph. Aureus, better known to the public as MRSA.  Once only seen in hospital-based infections, this resistant micro-organism is now seen in the general population.

It’s important to not let a wound infection become severe because these are difficult to cure without IV antibiotics. For mild to moderate infections, consider some of the following antibiotics:

  •         Bactrim (Bird-Sulfa)
  •         Clindamycin (Fish-Cin)
  •         Doxycycline (Bird-Biotic)
  •         Cephalexin (Fish-Flox)

To find out more about these antibiotics and othersas well as dosages, and indications, check out our series of articles on the subject at or check out a print or digital copy of the Second Edition of our book “The Survival Medicine Handbook”.

Guest post by by Joe Alton, M.D., aka Dr. Bones of

11 thoughts on “Medical basics: Wound infections”

  1. Something that would be helpful in preventing delay in healing would be Alginate dressings. Can be a bit pricey, but definitely worth it’s price to have in your first aid gear for wound care.

  2. Jacob @

    Things like this that we all take for granted are going to be some of the most deadly in a SHTF situation. Having some antibiotic stock and training in basic wound care is a big deal to be prepared.

  3. Yes, I too would like to know how honey can be used for wounds. I believe that is an old remedy and in an emergency honey might be more available.

    1. The Survival Mom

      Absolutely you can use honey! Be very sure that it doesn’t come from China, since those “honeys” are mixtures of all sorts of things. Manuka honey is considered the best honey to use for first aid.

  4. The Well-Rounded Mama

    Both honey and sugar are time-honored treatments for wound infections. The sugar in honey draws out moisture from the bacteria by osmotic action, which makes it harder for bacteria to multiply. Its acidity also inhibits bacterial growth. It provides a nice moist healing environment and keeps the dressings from sticking to the wound. It’s not a miracle cure but it can help in some cases.

    I’ve done quite a bit of research into the use of honey for wounds. The FDA approved the use of medical-grade honey wound dressings in 2007 but it’s been slow to catch on in the US compared to some countries. There’s a fair amount of research that it’s especially helpful in burns and small to moderate cuts; not as much for leg ulcers. Further research is needed to confirm these results. Manuka honey from NZ is the one most promoted for wound healing; it’s marketed under the name “Medihoney.” For those who like to read the research, I have references for a number of honey studies in this article:

  5. Christi Dixson

    I just found something new on the market and FDA approved to add to my first aid package I have put together as I have been a “prepper” now for a few years. It is called Omnicide and it is an FDA approved wound gel that kills all bacteria and viruses including MRSA, VRE and CRE. I heard about it through a friend and bought some. I have already used it on toenail fungus which is clearing up but takes awhile if you have ever had a case of it. I had a cut on my foot which had become infected when I went to the beach and got some kind of bacteria in the cut. I could hardly walk on my heel but after several days of using the gel the pain went away. I have also been using it on a mole on my back that is not cancerous and it is slowly flaking away. I put a small amount in a container and keep it in my purse and I have started putting a small amount around the tip of each nostril to fight off the chemicals in the air from chemtrailing. Hey, whatever helps I say go for it. I have not had to use any for a large wound of any type but I bought two tubes, one for my bugoutbag and one to use now. If you are interested in trying it you can email my friend at Tell him Christi referred you. Oh, he also has some bandages that keep all air and water out also, but I have not purchased any yet. Soon though.

  6. In an emergency situation, urine may be the only sterile liquid available to clean a wound. It is sterile so long as the donor does not have a bladder infection. After cleaning the wound, cayenne pepper can be applied. It serves as a blood stop, and disinfectant and it helps to promote healing.

  7. I purchased a surgical medical kit, complete with needles, suture material and a military field surgery book,detailing most types of wounds found in survival situations. I purchased extra suture material, and also purchased a dental emergency kit: What if a filling falls out, and there is no dentist around? Hence, the dental kit. It has dental plaster, and stuff to put in place of the filling until you can get medical attention. I also bought “tons” of gauze, bandages, of all types and sizes, medical tape, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and wound clotting bandages that will help stop severe bleeding. I also have a complete bite and sting first aid kit for mosquitoes, snakebites and wasp and bee stings.

    I think I’m ready. 😉

    I purchased all this in sections, not spending more than $20. at a time, (except for the surgical medical kit, which cost about $50.) all within about 4 months. You don’t have to get it all at once, just buy a few more bandages next time you’re at the store, and set them aside, an extra bottle of Hydrogen peroxide, or alcohol, next time you run out.

    With medical supplies, toiletries and also food items, I always buy two more when I run out, that way, I’m always adding one more to my stockpile each time, at almost no added expense. It adds up quickly.

    One of the best antibiotic/antiseptic items you can get is colloidal silver. It comes in gel, spray, and also liquid for taking internally. It will kill most everything, and is very safe to take. Yes, I have that, too!

    I have split my supplies up into several bags, one for my vehicle, my home and another as extra, just in case.

    As you can tell, I’m a bit of an “over-doer” when it comes to this stuff. Well, maybe my neighbors will come to me for help if (when) the SHTF, because I’ll be the only one who really prepared!!!!!

    Just don’t let this comment scare you away: You CAN do it, slowly, and with small amounts of money. I did.

  8. I find all these articles very informative and beneficial. Thank you for them.
    I have found the best way to treat MRSA, staff infections and strep in a very short time is with CPTG essential oils, not the kind you buy in a health food store. The oils I use are so pure, THEY DON”T EXPIRE, EVER!… as long as they are kept in a dark bottle.. And they are so small that carrying them around in a purse anywhere is easy as pie. My son had a TERRIBLE staff infection in his finger and it was spreading rapidly. I was ready to call the doctor and take him in for shots and a possible IV. And then I thought, “hum, if I couldn’t get to a doctor, what would I do? I wonder if these oils could do it?” I pulled out Oregano, On Guard and Melaleuka ( strong anti bacterial oils) and put 4 drops of each in a bowl of water and had my son soak his finger in it for 10 minutes. Then I dried his finger and poured 2-3 drops of each oil directly on the infection and wrapped it. The next morning I unwrapped the bandage and saw that the infection had stopped spreading. I repeated the protocol three more times (every 8 hours) and within 48 hours that infection was GONE! NADA! For about $2 I treated my son’s infection with great success! I felt empowered that I could do that on my own without going to a medical facility! It was a great feeling, especially since we live in an earthquake zone and one is predicted to happen in the near future!
    I buy my CPTG (Certified Pure Essential oils) from the Essential Oil Mother store online ( Shopping on her site is easy and she often has great specials!

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