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.

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.”

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.

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.


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.


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. 2023.

Updated January 3, 2023.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Bacterial Infections

Steven Keske


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

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Melanie A.

Survivor, Survivor

In November of 2020, my life was changed forever. Around August I started noticing that after a while my eye sight would get like I was looking under water, and my head felt like it was “pulsating.” I also had been dealing with a rash on my foot. My legs started to really hurt, and I was having a hard time walking. By November I could barely walk, and I felt sick a lot. Last thing I remember was leaving work at noon, after that I remember nothing. I had been found on the floor by my boyfriend. I had ... Read Full Story

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Janice M.

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On 2/10/2020 I was leaving work to go to lunch around noon and I bumped my elbow on the door jam on my way out. All night that night I struggled with severe pain but the skin hadn’t broke it was just swollen so I took Motrin and tried to baby it. The morning I was still in extreme pain and I was trying to get ready for work and I keep falling over. I was dizzy, so I called into work and told them I was going to take Motrin and would try again in a couple hours. My ... Read Full Story

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Joey Buchholz

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My big brother Joey, 46, had a heart attack July 21, 2022. It was a terrifying experience for our family, but miraculously, he survived. He had a stent placed in an artery, but during a follow-up stent procedure two days later, one of the stents caused a tear in another artery, leading to total occlusion. His chest pain subsided overnight, but other symptoms started to surface, such as pain at the IV sites, recurring fevers, an elevated white blood cell count, dehydration, weakness, decreased urine output, palpitations during sleep, and an elevated resting heart rate (most of this we weren’t ... Read Full Story

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Gwen G.

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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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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.