Pus In a Wound After Surgery

What Exactly is Pus?

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Abdominal Surgery Incision. © Getty Images/Barrett Forster

Pus is a general term for a collection of thick, often white fluid that accumulates around the source of an infection. The medical term for pus is purulence, or purulent drainage.  Pus can be alarming because it often signals that presence of an infection. That said, it is important to keep in mind that there are many types of drainage, and it is absolutely possible to have drainage from a wound that may look like pus or a sign of infection, but is normal drainage.

 The only way to tell the difference is to see your primary care provider or your surgeon, if the drainage is from a surgical wound.

If an infection is present in the body, there may be a small quantity of pus, or there may be a significant buildup of this material in a wound.  Pus may not leak from the body, but gather in a small or large collection that can happen almost anywhere in the human body.

For example, pus is often present in tiny amounts in acne, but can be found in very large quantities if an infection is severe or goes for a long period of time without treatment.  This may be an abscess, infected tooth, an infected surgical incision or a boil on the skin.

Pus Explained

Pus is made up of dead tissue, white blood cells, and damaged cells. Pus is present when the body begins to fight an infection, sending white blood cells to the source of the problem in order to stop the germs from infecting more tissue.

While the presences of pus is a good thing in that it indicates that the body is working to fight off the infection, it is never a good thing to have an infection. 

Pus is generally white or a yellow-white color, but it can be greenish, blood-tinged, blue (in rare cases) or even a brown color. It can also have a foul odor.


Pus can be present in a surgical incision that is becoming infected and is a sign that further treatment is needed.  At the very least, a call to the surgeon is absolutely necessary, as a surgical infection can become serious quickly.  When an infection spreads and reaches the bloodstream, a condition referred to as sepsis, the infection can become life-threatening.

Treatment of a Wound With Pus

Resist the urge to scrub a surgical wound with pus coming from it. While you might want to get the area as clean as possible, you will likely do more harm than good by removing the drainage before it can be seen by a provider.  It is also very irritating to a wound to be scrubbed or to have harsh cleansers used. If you must clean the site, or an appointment is not available immediately, gently wash the area with warm water and a gentle cleanser, rinsing well.  Do not use anything that is too harsh to use on a baby's skin during this process.

 First, notify the surgeon that an infection is present in the surgical site.  Do not clean the site or try to remove the pus until the surgeon has an opportunity to take a swab of the surgical site, if needed.  Once the swab is collected, you may require antibiotics, a change in your wound care regimen or both.


The swab of the site is used to perform a wound culture to determine the nature of the infection and help in the selection of an antibiotic. Often, an antibiotic is initiated at the first sign of infection, but this may later be changed if the wound culture indicates another antibiotic may be more effective than the first.

Signs of an Emergency After Surgery

Preventing Infection After Surgery

Also Known As: pus, infection, wound infection, incision infection, infected incision, purulent drainage, wound drainage, incision drainage, surgery infection, surgery pus, surgical incision pus, surgical incision infection, green pus, yellow pus, blue pus

Common Misspellings: puss, pussy,

Examples: The surgeon prescribed an antibiotic after the patient showed her that the incision had pus draining from it.