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

Judith Lipton

Survivor

I nearly died of sepsis almost exactly one year ago, starting on May 22, 2020. I want to tell my story especially since I may be among the few people who have lived through severe encephalopathy and survived without incapacitating brain damage. I also want to educate people about the signs of sepsis, and the need for informed consent. Thanks for listening to me. Even though I am a physician myself and my husband is a professional biologist, we did not recognize the initial signs of sepsis. We should have gone to the hospital right away, as soon as I ... Read Full Story

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Doug Peters

Survivor, Survivor

In 2018 started to experience swollen foot, dizziness and hallucinations. Went to a number of specialists, including labs and imaging. My foot hurt the most and all Doctors said it was diabetes and to keep it raised. (Sepsis and Hallucinations) Several blamed it on drinking which I do admit was issue, however I was not and still not diabetic. Finally one day in Nov could not get out of bed for appointment. Grown daughter was at home checking up on me and Mother. She called a visiting nurse and they did come that day. Within minutes of checking my vitals ... Read Full Story

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Holli T.

Survivor, Survivor, 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

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Tiran Miller

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

Dec 21 2019 my husband wasn’t feeling well, I went to get some OTC meds to help when I arrived back he was being loaded into an ambulance. Come to find out my husband had an aortic dissection and spinal stroke. After 8 hours of surgery he made it but could no longer feel anything below his chest. He remained in ICU for 4 months with daily fevers of 103 degrees or better. Doctors had no answers. I became very concerned and took him to another hospital for a 2nd opinion. The hospital also could not find the cause for ... Read Full Story

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Emma Russell

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

I was admitted to hospital during the first lockdown, told that I had a kidney infection and that I needed surgery. (Sepsis and Bacterial Infections) I had been admitted with shakes and shivers and a raging fever. The nurses spent days giving me antibiotics and fluids. I was released, on the waiting list as a priority 6/8 weeks. 18 months later and several kidney infections later, low dose of antibiotics to keep the infections at bay, I was invited for my op. A staghorn calculus kidney stone was almost covering my kidney and surgery was to break this up. (Sepsis ... 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.