Infection of blood by bacteria and other virulent pathogens is referred to as septicemia. Also known as blood poisoning, it is a severe health condition that calls for immediate medical attention.
Septicemia is a serious case of infection, wherein, the pathogens attack the body through the bloodstream. As expected, the microbes along with toxic substances are spread to other body organs through blood circulation. Moreover, it is the untreated, primary bacterial infection or recurrent infections, which bring about septicemia.
As the name truly suggests, it is a medical condition, characterized by presence of pathogen and its toxins in the blood. Septicemia and sepsis are mistaken as one and the same medical condition. There is a slight difference between both; the former refers to the presence of pathogen in the blood, while the latter is inflammation of the body parts due to a blood infection. Patients who have been diagnosed with a blood infection are called septic.
While all pathogenic organisms are virulent for causing septicemia, bacteria are responsible for majority of the blood infection cases. Any form of bacterial infection, whether external or internal, can lead to an infection in the blood. Thus, the probable causes are infections of the mouth, gums, wounds, cuts, burns, and other areas. Similarly, blood infection causes and other triggers include infections of the respiratory tract, urinary tract, and gastrointestinal tract. From the originally infected sites, bacteria make their way to the bloodstream and release toxins.
Symptoms and Treatment
As bacteria and their toxins contaminate the bloodstream and other organs of the body, the reaction of body’s immune system is quite obvious. This causes systemic swelling of body parts and blood coagulation, accompanied with other infection symptoms. A mild, yet untreated blood infection worsens to severe cases and septic shock, which are life-threatening complications. The manifested symptoms include:
- Low body temperature
- High fever
- Abdominal discomfort
- Rapid breathing rate (more than 20 breaths per minute)
- Elevated heartbeat rate (higher than 90 beats per minute)
- Increased sweating
- Low blood pressure
For confirmation of septicemia or presence of bacteria in the blood, a laboratory procedure called blood culture is conducted. If diagnosis and treatment are proceeded in the early stages, i.e., before severe damage is done to the vital organs, patients usually experience a prompt recovery. However, in cases of septic shock, the survival rate of patients is 50% or more. This is because of the irreversible damages to the vital organs, which impair their normal functioning. Being a bacterial infection case, treatment involves administration of antibiotics.
Antibacterial therapy is applicable for all cases of septicemia. But, patients with primary infections can undergo treatment at home with a full course of prescription antibiotics, while those with severe cases need intensive care under a doctor’s supervision. Hospitalization is suggested for those with a weakened immune system, and those having underlying diseases. Once patients are hospitalized in a septic shock state, they are given broad spectrum, intravenous antibiotics. After the causal bacterial strain is identified, narrow spectrum antibiotics (specific to the strain) are recommended.
The actual therapeutic approaches are based on several aspects, like extent of bacterial invasion, severity of symptoms, organ damage (if any), and general health of the patient. In case, a patient is having difficulty in breathing, mechanical ventilation is provided to support normal respiration, while dialysis is considered for those with compromised kidney functioning. Likewise, supportive treatment in conjunction with administration of antibiotics is taken up to improve vital functions of the body. For some patients, surgical draining of pus and infected areas is considered.