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Blood Infection

Blood Infection

A blood infection or sepsis is a serious condition that affects individuals with a fragile immune system. This article dwells not only on its various causes and symptoms, but also talks about the diagnosis and treatment options.
Chandramita Bora
This Is True. ...
Annually, sepsis grips 750,000 Americans on an average. An estimate declares that out of the number mentioned, 30-50% of people affected, succumb to death. It, indeed, is a whopping number ... more than the number that die due to AIDS, prostate cancer, and breast cancer, collectively.

A blood infection is also known as sepsis or septicemia. It is characterized by severe infection of the blood, due to the presence of infectious agents and toxins. Sepsis can be caused by microorganisms like bacteria, fungi or viruses. These microorganisms can cause infection in any part of the body, and can eventually spread to the bloodstream, especially if the immune system is not strong enough to prevent their invasion.

However, the immune system does try to prevent the infection of the bloodstream, but in the process, small blood clots are formed in the blood vessels. This impairs normal blood flow and the supply of oxygenated blood to the tissues and organs. When these tissues and organs do not receive sufficient amount of oxygen, they fail to perform their regular activities. This ultimately leads to the medical condition called 'shock', which is characterized by the lack of oxygen and nutrients in the tissues. This may even lead to organ failure and death of the individual, if not treated on time.

Conditions that Lead to Sepsis
Though this is most commonly caused by bacteria, other microbes like fungi or viruses can also be responsible for sepsis. Any condition or disease that can weaken the immune system can increase the risk of developing sepsis or infection in the blood. When the immune system is not strong enough, infection in any part of the body, like the lungs, skin, abdomen or kidneys can lead to sepsis. A few harmful strains of bacteria, like Escherichia coli (E. coli) can enter the body through the consumption of contaminated food. They first enter the digestive system and then pervade the bloodstream.

A few conditions in which the bacteria may set off the reaction that leads to sepsis are:

» Urinary tract infection or pyelonephritis (inflammation of the kidneys)
» Meningitis (inflammation on the thin membrane covering the brain)
» Pneumonia (infection in the lungs)
» Cellulitis (inflammation of the skin)
» Peritoneal inflammation (inflammation of the bowel)
» Appendicitis (inflamed and painful appendix)
» Osteomyelitis (infection of the bone marrow)

Most common sites of initial infection in hospitalized patients are:

» Surgical wounds
» Decubitus ulcers
» Intravenous lines
» Urinary catheters

Who is at a Greater Risk?
If a person ...

... is taking immunosuppressive medications
... is having steroids over a long period of time
... is suffering from AIDS, longstanding diabetes, or cirrhosis
... has surgically got his spleen removed (which helps fight certain infections)
... has suffered severe burn injuries
... is undergoing chemotherapy radiation
... is very young -- from being a neonate to adolescence, or the elderly

Sepsis Symptoms
» Fever, chills and shivering
» Confusion, disorientation and agitation
» Rapid heartbeat and breathing
» Low blood pressure
» Dizziness
» Skin rash or small dark red spots
» Joints pain (especially wrists, elbows, back, hips, knees, and ankles)

Diagnostic Measures
The infection is usually diagnosed and confirmed by a blood test, although, for people who are on antibiotics, a blood test may not detect the infection. In such cases, the following diagnosis is done.

» Kidney function test
» Blood gases - measures the amount of oxygen, carbon dioxide and acidity, i.e., pH
» Blood differential - to know the percentage of white blood cells
» Platelet count and fibrin degradation products - to track bleeding
» Chest X-ray or CT scan - to check for infections in other organs

Apart from the above, sputum, urine, abscess, and spinal fluid are also tested to look for any type of infectious agents.

Treatment Options
Generally, antibiotics are given intravenously to destroy the infectious bacteria causing sepsis. The patient may be required to be put on oxygen support and admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). Besides, the other treatment options are:

» Medicaments which help to increase blood pressure
» In case of kidney failure, dialysis is done
» In case of lung failure, mechanical ventilation is given

The effectiveness of the treatment depends on a number of factors, including the age of the individual as well as the underlying conditions. If the person is already struggling with a serious disease, then the chances of recovery lessen. However, healthy individuals with no major disease or condition can recover easily, if treated on time. Therefore, timely diagnosis plays an important role in the treatment.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.