Bacterial Infections

Bacteria are microscopic single-cell microorganisms (microbes) that are all around us. Most are harmless, and many are helpful. For example, bacteria in your intestines (gut) help break down the food you eat so your body can digest it. However, some types of bacteria can cause bacterial infections, which in turn can cause sepsis.

Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Bacterial infections are the most common cause of sepsis. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

Examples of bacterial infections

Bacteria must enter your body for them to cause an infection. So you can get a bacterial infection through an opening in your skin, such as a cut, a bug bite, or a surgical wound. Bacteria can also enter your body through your airway and cause infections like bacterial pneumonia. Other types of bacterial infections include urinary tract infections (including bladder and kidney infections) and dental abscesses, as well as infections caused by MRSA, Group B Streptococcus, and C. Difficile. Infections can also occur in open wounds, such as pressure ulcers (bed sores). Pressure ulcers are caused by constant pressure on the skin for extended periods or rubbing. For example, a senior who is bedridden could develop sores on the coccyx (tailbone) area, elbows, heels, or anywhere else where there is constant contact with a bed or adapted “easy chair.”

Sometimes bacterial infections are “secondary infections.” For example, if you contract COVID-19 – a virus – your body is in a weakened state and could also develop bacterial pneumonia. You would then be fighting both a viral infection and a bacterial one.

What are the symptoms of a bacterial infection?

Bacterial infections present in many ways, depending on the part of the body affected. If you have bacterial pneumonia, you may experience

  • Fever
  • Cough, with phlegm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Shaking chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain with breathing

If you have a urinary tract infection, you may have some of these symptoms:

  • Sudden and extreme urges to void (pass urine)
  • Frequent urges to void
  • Burning, irritation, or pain as you void
  • A feeling of not emptying your bladder completely
  • A feeling of pressure in your abdomen or lower back
  • Thick or cloudy urine – it may contain blood
  • Fever

The common element with most bacterial infections are:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Pain or discomfort in the affected area

But if the infection is in a joint, that joint and the surrounding area will likely hurt; if you have a sinus infection, you will probably have a headache and foul nasal discharge, and so on.

Prevention

Not all infections can be prevented, but the chances of spreading these infections can be greatly reduced by following these tips:

  • Wash your hands often, particularly if you are in a healthcare facility.
  • Keep wounds clean and covered.
  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as razors.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Malnutrition, not consuming enough nutrients for your needs, can lower your body’s ability to fight infection.

Treatment

Most often, treatment for a bacterial infection is with antibiotics. They could be taken orally (by pill, liquid, or capsule), injection, drops, topical (cream or ointment), or intravenously (by IV). The treatment may be very short, or it could go as long as several weeks, depending on the type of infection and how it reacts to the antibiotics. Sometimes, the infection will not go away, and your doctor may have to try a different type of antibiotic.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

 

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Suggested Citation: Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Bacterial Infections. 2022. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/bacterial-infections/

Updated January 24, 2022.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Bacterial Infections

Holli T.

Survivor

I am a 2x triple negative breast cancer survivor AND a 2x sepsis survivor. The day Oregon shut down due to COVID-19, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. After I went through chemo and recovered, I underwent my second bilateral mastectomy to remove implants from my first bout with cancer (2017). At some point, I touched my dog and then my drain tube. It took less than 8 hours for my drainage to go from normal, to green and gross looking. (Sepsis and Cancer, Sepsis and Surgery, Sepsis and Invasive Devices) I was hospitalized, put on antibiotics. I was ... Read Full Story

Submit Your StoryView More Stories

Steven Keske

Survivor, Survivor

In April 2020 my son came to me and said his leg hurt. I coughed it up to growing pains. The next morning he woke up to a rash and a fever. He said he leg hurt. Called his doctor and was referred to urgent care. The urgent care doctor said it was a virus and let it take its course. And do Google Covid testing sites. Within 24hrs I found my son’s lifeless body, I rushed him to the children’s hospital and that’s when we found out what he really had. If I didn’t check on him that night ... Read Full Story

Submit Your StoryView More Stories

Robert Helton

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

In February 2021 I received care from a neighborhood physician’s assistant for a hangnail that had become infected. After having the infection drained, I was prescribed an antibiotic. Two weeks later I became ill with severe diarrhea and returned to the same office. (Sepsis and Bacterial Infections) I was prescribed Cipro and Flagyl for potential diverticulitis and my symptoms subsided. Another two weeks passed and again, I was sick again with the same symptoms and visited my primary care physician and was again prescribed Cipro and Flagyl and the physician’s assistant also ordered a CT scan that later revealed irritation ... Read Full Story

Submit Your StoryView More Stories

Tommy Bosko

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

One October day my wife and I were on our yearly vacation in the mountains of western Marylands, celebrating Autumn Glory, at a vacation rental in Deep creek lake. The rental cabin had a hot tub. I enjoyed soaking in it since it was crisp outside and the trees were really beautiful in the colors of fall, I like saying they looked as if they were painted by God’s paint brush. The trip was great and I was fine for a few weeks after returning home. Then one night I couldn’t get warm. My wife put all of our blankets ... Read Full Story

Submit Your StoryView More Stories

Hadley Rae

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Bug's Angels

Our beautiful Haddie gave us 8 months and 13 days of pure joy and sunshine to all that knew her! She was a surviving twin. When she was born, she was in the NICU due to low glucose levels. When she was discharged a week later her papers said they treated her also for newborn sepsis suspected. (Sepsis and Children) We were never aware of this until reviewing medical reports. She had her occasional colds, or teething episodes with low grade fevers. My husband and I took her to the doctor numerous of times for various reasons but we never ... Read Full Story

Submit Your StoryView More Stories

Bacterial Infections

Bacteria are microscopic single-cell microorganisms that are found all around us. Most of them are harmless and many are helpful. For example, bacteria in your intestines (gut) help break down the food you eat so your body can digest it. However, some types of bacteria can cause bacterial infections, which in turn can cause sepsis.