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How to treat open wounds to stop infection in the wild.

Andrew Hudson suffered head wounds from alligator attack


Open wounds are serious in a survival situation, not only because of tissue damage and blood loss, but also because they may become infected. Bacteria on the object that made the wound, on the individual’s skin and clothing, or on other foreign material or dirt that touches the wound may cause infection.

By taking proper care of the wound, you can reduce further contamination and promote healing. Clean the wound as soon as possible by doing the following:

  • Removing or cutting clothing away from the wound.
  • Always looking for an exit wound if a sharp object, gunshot, or projectile caused a wound.
  • Thoroughly clean the skin around the wound.
  • Rinsing (not scrubbing) the wound with large amounts of water under pressure. Water can be pressurized using a syringe, irrigator, or plastic baggie with a small hole poked in it.  You can use fresh urine if water is not available.

Open Treatment

The “open treatment” method is the safest way to manage wounds in survival situations. Do not try to close any wound by suturing or similar procedures. Leave the wound open to allow the drainage of any pus resulting from infection. As long as the wound can drain, it generally will not become life-threatening, regardless of how unpleasant it looks or smells.

Cover the wound with a clean dressing. Place a bandage on the dressing to hold it in place. Pine sap can be applied in place of an antiseptic.  Change the dressing daily to check for infection.  If no bandage is available, a peeled prickly pear cactus pad can be used (it also contains antiseptic properties).

Gaping Wounds

If a wound is gaping, you can bring the edges together with adhesive tape cut in the form of a “butterfly” or “dumbbell”. Use this method with extreme caution in the absence of antibiotics. You must always allow for proper drainage of the wound to avoid infection.

Infections in Wounds

In a survival situation, some degree of wound infection is almost inevitable. Pain, swelling, and redness around the wound, increased temperature, and pus in the wound or on the dressing indicate infection is present.

If the wound becomes infected, you should treat it as follows:

  • Place a warm, moist compress directly on the infected wound. Change the compress when it cools, keeping a warm compress on the wound for a total of 30 minutes. Apply the compresses three or four times daily.
  • Drain the wound. Open and gently probe the infected wound with a sterile instrument.
  • Dress and bandage the wound.
  • Drink a lot of water.
  • In the event of a gunshot or other serious wounds, it may be better to rinse the wound out vigorously every day with the cleanest water available. If drinking water or methods to purify drinking water are limited, do not use your drinking water. Flush the wound forcefully daily until the wound is healed. Your scar may be larger, but your chances of infection are greatly reduced.
  • Continue this treatment daily until all signs of infection have disappeared.

If you do not have antibiotics and the wound has become severely infected, does not heal, and ordinary debridement is impossible, consider maggot therapy as stated below, despite its hazards:

  • Expose the wound to flies for one day and then cover it.
  • Check daily for maggots.
  • Once maggots develop, keep the wound covered but check daily.
  • Remove all maggots when they have cleaned out all dead tissue and before they start on healthy tissue. Increased pain and bright red blood in the wound indicate that the maggots have reached healthy tissue.
  • Flush the wound repeatedly with sterile water or fresh urine to remove the maggots.  removed.
  • Bandage the wound and treat it as any other wound. It should heal normally.
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