Blood Stream Infections

Orlando Health Infectious Disease physicians are experienced in the treatment of bacteremia, an invasion of the bloodstream by bacteria. This may occur through a wound or infection, or through a surgical procedure or injection.

Several types of bacteria live on the surface of the skin or colonize the moist linings of the urinary tract, lower digestive tract and other internal surfaces. These bacteria are normally harmless as long as they are kept in check by your body’s natural barriers and the immune system. People in good health with strong immune systems rarely develop bacteremia.

However, when bacteria are introduced directly into the circulatory system, especially if you are ill or undergoing aggressive medical treatment, the immune system may not be able to cope with the invasion, and symptoms of bacteremia may develop.

Conditions that increase the chances of developing bacteremia include:
  • Immune suppression, either due to HIV infection or drug therapy
  • Antibiotic therapy which changes the balance of bacterial types in the body
  • Prolonged or severe illness
  • Alcoholism or other drug abuse
  • Malnutrition
  • Diseases or drug therapy that cause ulcers in the intestines (e.g., chemotherapy for cancer)

Common immediate causes of bacteremia include:
  • Drainage of an abscess, including an abscessed tooth
  • Urinary tract infection, especially in the presence of a bladder catheter
  • Decubitus ulcers (pressure sores)
  • Intravenous procedures using unsterilized needles, including IV drug use
  • Prolonged IV needle placement
  • Use of ostomy tubes, including gastrostomy and jejunostomy

The bacteria most likely to cause bacteremia include members of the Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, Haemophilus and Escherichia coli (E. coli) genera.

Symptoms

Symptoms of bacteremia include fever over 101°F (38.3°C), chills, malaise, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, shortness of breath and confusion.

Not all of these symptoms are usually present. Bacteremia may lead to septic shock; symptoms include decreased consciousness, rapid heart and breathing rates, and multiple organ failures.

Bacteremia is diagnosed by culturing the blood for bacteria. Samples may need to be tested several times over several hours.

Treatment

Bacteremia may cause no symptoms, but may be discovered through a blood test for another condition. In this situation, it may not need to be treated, except in patients especially at risk for infection, such as those with heart valve defects or whose immune systems are suppressed.

Prevention

Bacteremia can be prevented by preventing the infections that often precede it. Good personal hygiene, especially during viral illness, may reduce the risk of developing bacterial infection. Treating bacterial infections quickly and thoroughly can minimize the risk of spreading infection.