Using correct technique, circumcision has a low complication rate. An infected circumcision is an uncommon complication and is often minor. When infections occur after surgery, they are usually due to the disruption of the skin that acts as a barrier against infection. However clearly not all disruptions to the skin result in infections: we do not expect a child’s knee to become infected every time they trip and fall onto it. Similarly, as circumcision is a relatively minor surgical procedure, the chance of an infection developing is low when conducted under sterile conditions. For circumcision, there is no need for prophylactic (preventative) antibiotics.
While infection is a possible complication of circumcision in the short-term, circumcision actually reduces the risk of urinary tract infections, balanitis, HIV and many other infections of the urinary system in the long-term.
The information on this page is provided as a guide only. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. If you have any concerns about your or your child’s health, you should contact the doctor that performed the circumcision, your GP or an appropriate medical professional. If you are one of our patients, you will know that you can contact us at any time when you are concerned.
How to recognise an infection after circumcision
The following may occur during healing and are not signs of an infected circumcision:
- a small amount of blood droplets seen on the nappy or underwear in the first days after circumcision
- yellowish scabs forming on the glans (head of the penis) where adhesions were removed or around the cut edge
- bruising near the base of the shaft of the penis if local anaesthetic injections were used during the procedure
- a small amount of clear discharge around the wound site which is a normal sign of dying skin seen in the Plastibell technique. The discharge is sometimes foul-smelling however when this happens, it is often difficult for parents to decide if there is an infection or not. Therefore seeking advice is a good idea.
- pain in the first few days after circumcision and for children, around the time the Plastibell ring is close to falling off. Painkillers are advised during these times. If there are delays in the ring falling off, contact us as we can offer advice or bring the child in to accelerate removal.
These however, may be signs of an infection and medical advice should be sought as soon as possible:
- discharge that includes pus (cloudy, yellowish/white, foul-smelling fluid)
- hot skin and/or spreading redness around the wound site
Other than infection, these are also signs for which medical advice should be sought
- bleeding that does not stop within a few minutes, or a spot of blood in the diaper larger than a pound coin
- excessive pain
- a large amount of swelling
- discolouration of the penis (could be signs of insufficient blood flow or infection)
- not making urine
- child unable to be comforted
- drowsy child
What to do if you are concerned
Contact the team that performed the circumcision in the first instance. If you are our patient, you can contact us on the emergency number we provided during your appointment at any time. The alternative avenues for medical care are your GP, NHS Direct by calling 111 (who can arrange an appointment with an out-of-hours doctor) or in an emergency, you should call 999 or attend your local emergency department. For most situations, calling your own team that performed the circumcision first is advisable as they will be most familiar about what is normal during the healing process.
How to treat infection
An infection should be assessed by an experienced professional. If an infection is suspected, the usual treatment is antibiotics after other causes of the symptoms are excluded. The most common antibiotic for mild infections is flucloxacillin which has penicillin (never use medication that has been prescribed for someone else). The signs of the infection should start to settle within 3-5 days. A generally unwell adult or child with a skin infection may need to be admitted to hospital and have stronger antibiotics and closer monitoring however this is rare – in over 20 years, none of our doctor’s patients have ever needed this.
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