Sepsis and 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.

Sepsis, which was often called blood poisoning, 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.

Suggested Citation:
Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Bacterial Infections. 2023. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/bacterial-infections/

Updated September 20, 2023.

 

More About Bacterial Infections

Examples

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.”

The name of one type of infection, septic arthritis, may be confusing to some people because it is not sepsis, despite its name. Septic arthritis is an infection in the joint fluid. However, this type of infection can also lead to sepsis. It can be caused by bacteria, as well as other microbes.

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.

Symptoms

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
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.

Related Resources

Sepsis and Bacterial Infections – Chinese

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Sepsis and Bacterial Infections – Tagalog

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LA SEPSIS Y LAS INFECCIONES DENTALES

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LA SEPSIS Y LAS INFECCIONES BACTERIANAS

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Information Guide

Prevention

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Information Guide

Meningitis

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Dental Infections

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Cellulitis

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C. difficile

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Bacterial Infections

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Appendicitis

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Robert Helton

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

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Gwen G.

I had a breast reduction on December 21, 2022. I was two weeks post-op and feeling great. Then it hit me, shaking, fever, chills, high heart rate, leg pain, and brain fog. (Sepsis and Surgery) I drove myself to the emergency room with a fever of 103. My ER doctor saved my life. My white blood cell count was sky high and my blood work was showing a left shift. I had sepsis. I thought I was going to be more afraid, but I knew I had to fight. They found a 13cm abscess in my left breast. This would ... Read Full Story

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Other Topics

Bacterial Infections