A severe burn is one that extends down through several layers of tissue. It can also cover a significant percentage of the body’s surface area.
Burn injuries are dangerous in themselves, but they can also cause complications. An infection is one of the most potentially dangerous complications of a severe burn.
Why does a severe burn increase the risk of infection?
According to the National Institutes of Health, severe burns increase the risk of infection for two reasons. First, a burn injury can weaken the immune system, affecting the body’s ability to fight off disease. Second, the skin is the body’s first line of defense against pathogens that cause infections. Damage to the skin due to a burn injury leaves the body more susceptible to pathogens entering the body.
Where does the infection take place?
An infection can take place at the site of the burn but, because the injury exposes subcutaneous tissue, the whole body may be at risk. The infection could travel through the bloodstream to other areas of the body, a condition called sepsis.
How can patients and caregivers prevent infection?
According to the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center, the hospital where the patient receives treatment should have infection control guidelines in place. For example, providers treating a patient with a burn injury may have to wear gowns and gloves to protect patients from pathogens.
The expectation is that providers follow these guidelines and teach them to patients and their family members. For example, patients and family members typically receive instruction to practice good hand hygiene to avoid transferring pathogens to vulnerable areas of the patient’s body via touch.
As the patient heals from skin grafting surgery or other treatment for the burn injury, the risk of infection decreases.