Infections are a very common problem. The have caused minor inconveniences to severe, life-threatening problems. Daily infections are discussed in the news or around the water cooler. Lifestyle changes are commonly recommended to reduce infection risk. New forms of infection are identified regularly and new steps, from hand washing or antibaterial scrubs to immunizations and quarantine, are utilized to reduce the spread of infections. Infections continue, however, to present on a regular basis. So the real question is when do you know you have an infection?
Clinical Signs of Infection
The most common signs of infection include:
- Erythema: Increased redness to the area (usually a bright red color)
- Edema: Increased swelling or retained water to area. Severe edema can lead to "shiny skin"
- Calor: Increased heat to area
- Dolor: Increased pain, which may even be debilitating pain
Other signs may include fever, chills, nausea or vomitting.
Types of Infection
Infections are caused by a microbe or organism that "infects" an area of the body. These organisms may be self contained or require a host. Each causes different forms of infection and requires different treatments. Here are the most common encountered in the feet and ankles:
- Bacteria: A small self contained organism that self replicates and has various features to cause infection. Bacteria are all around us and can even be found on our skin. This is the most common causative agent of infection. A staph infection or strep infection are types of bacterial infection. Most antibiotics are designed to treat this type of infection.
- Virus: A small organism that requires cells to replicate and survive. These enter the human cells (for example) and replicate to produce an infection. A common known virus would be HIV or forms of the common cold. In the foot, the plantar wart is a form of virus infection. Treatment for these types of infections are usually more difficult.
- Fungus: These organisms consist of yeasts, molds or fungus (small self-contained organisms) that get entry into the body and cause an infection. Yeast infections can be a common form of this infection. Athlete's Foot (Tinea Pedis) or Fungal Toenails (Onychomycosis) are common presentations in the foot. These treatments are usually initiated with antifungal medications.
If you are not sure if you have an infection, the best idea is to get evaluation and possible treatment by a specialist in foot and ankle health.