Hesperian Health Guides


Any wound can become infected.

Signs of infection

The wound is infected if it:

  • becomes swollen, red, and hot
  • has pus
  • begins to smell bad

The infection is spreading to other parts of the body if:

  • it causes fever
  • the lymph nodes become swollen and tender

Lymph nodes — often called ‘glands’ — are little traps for germs that form small lumps under the skin when they get infected. Swollen lymph nodes mean infection.
a person's body, showing the 5 locations of lymph nodes.
Below the jaw means infection of the teeth or throat.
Behind the ear means an infection on the head or scalp, often caused by sores or lice. Or German measles (rubella) may be the cause.
Below the ear and on the neck means infection of the ear, face, or head. Or
it could be tuberculosis.
In the armpit means an infection of the arm, head, or breast. Or sometimes breast cancer.
In the groin means an infection of
the leg, foot, genitals, or anus.
Treatment for infection

Clean the wound well. You may need to open an abscess or remove stitches. Unless the infected area is small, shows no signs of infection and is healing quickly, it is usually wise to give antibiotics. Give dicloxacillin, cephalexin, OR clindamycin. A person who is not up-to-date with tetanus vaccinations needs a vaccination and, if the wound is deep, also an injection of antitetanus immunoglobulin.

If the infection does not get better, it can spread through the blood. This is called sepsis.

This page was updated:17 Sep 2020