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Wound healing is a complex process with many potential factors that can delay healing. There is increasing interest in the effects of bacteria on the processes of wound healing. All chronic wounds are colonized by bacteria, with low levels of bacteria being beneficial to the wound healing process. Wound infection is detrimental to wound healing, but the diagnosis and management of wound infection is controversial, and varies between clinicians.There is increasing recognition of the concept of critical colonization or local infection, when wound healing may be delayed in the absence of the typical clinical features of infection. The progression from wound colonization to infection depends not only on the bacterial count or the species present, but also on the host immune response, the number of different species present, the virulence of the organisms and synergistic interactions between the different species. There is increasing evidence that bacteria within chronic wounds live within biofilm communities, in which the bacteria are protected from host defences and develop resistance to antibiotic treatment.An appreciation of the factors affecting the progression from colonization to infection can help clinicians with the interpretation of clinical findings and microbiological investigations in patients with chronic wounds. An understanding of the physiology and interactions within multi-species biofilms may aid the development of more effective methods of treating infected and poorly healing wounds. The emergence of consensus guidelines has helped to optimize clinical management.