Most small cuts heal within a few days unless they become infected. Even tiny scratches can allow bacteria, viruses and parasites into the body that can cause serious and even life-threatening infections, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The first sign of infection is often pain that worsens after the first day or two, notes the Merck Manual. Later, the infected area becomes red, warm and swollen, and it may drain pus.
Examine the infected cut carefully. Look for pustules or boils that look like spider bites or bumps that are red, warm, swollen and painful; these symptoms may indicate a MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, skin infection that can easily spread to others, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Take your temperature using a thermometer. A fever---usually an oral temperature higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit in an adult---indicates a more serious wound infection.
Cover an open or draining wound with a sterile bandage and wash your hands. Do not pop, drain or disinfect it yourself because the infection can spread to others and, if it is caused by MRSA, it will be difficult to treat.
Contact your health care provider for instructions. Depending upon your symptoms, age, temperature and general health, as well as the location and depth of the wound, you may be advised to continue treatment at home or to go to the clinic for treatment.
Follow your health care provider's instructions carefully. If the cut is not deep and you do not have a fever or signs of a MRSA infection, you may be advised to apply antibiotic cream or apply warm, wet compresses several times a day until the wound heals. However, if a MRSA infection is suspected, your health care provider may need to perform an I&D---incision and drainage---under sterile conditions, according to CDC. For an I&D, the health care provider cleans and numbs the affected area at the clinic or emergency room. Using a sterile scalpel, she makes a cut or incision into the infected wound so that the pus can drain out. After cleaning the drainage from the skin, she places a sterile dressing over the wound to protect it. In some cases, she will also prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the infection, but often the I&D is sufficient.
Take all prescribed antibiotics according to your health care provider's instructions, even if the infection seems to be getting better. If you stop the medication without taking the full course, the bacteria will not be eliminated from your system and may become resistant to the antibiotic you were taking, making the infection harder to treat.
Contact your health care provider again if there is no improvement after 48 hours of antibiotic treatment. It may be necessary for your health care provider to change antibiotics or drain the infection again.