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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Brittany H.

I had an ingrown hair on my tailbone but thought nothing of it I just thought it would go away but I was so wrong. That ingrown hair turned into a cyst which had gotten infected and then turned into sepsis. (Sepsis and Bacterial Infections) I didn’t know it though until it turned it septic shock. This took place August 19th 2023. My fiance came home from a trip and found me acting odd. I do not recall any of this, I just remember saying I was very hot and he then called an ambulance for me because I kept ... Read Full Story

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Joseph Graziano

My father died on March 6th, 2022, at a major New York City hospital from septic shock. (Sepsis and Septic Shock) He was 75 years old. He underwent a cardiac procedure when a complication occurred. (Sepsis and Surgery) The complication was not detected and therefore not treated. He was discharged after 24 hours and given two follow-up appointments dates. The first follow-up appointment was two weeks post-op and the second appointment was a week after that. He was not ordered to undergo any post-op testing. While at home recovering, he experienced numerous symptoms. We all thought is was covid or ... Read Full Story

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Jamie M.

Hi, my name is Jamie M. I’m a 40-year-old mother of two elementary-aged boys and I’m a sepsis survivor. I grew up in the northeast U.S. playing field hockey and snowboarding. After a move to Florida for college, I obtained my degree and met my soulmate. We married shortly after graduation and enjoyed traveling together and working in our chosen fields. When we had our first child, I left my career to work from home as a seamstress. I ran a very successful business for many years, assisting neighbors with alterations, repairs, and custom projects. Sewing was a fantastic creative ... Read Full Story

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Aurelia C.

The summer of 2023, my four-year-old daughter, Aurelia, had been dealing with a slight cough for a few days. No other symptoms, no fever. The day everything went wrong, we got up as usual and she seemed fine. I was driving her to an appointment a few hours away when she began vomiting. She felt warm, so I stopped at the nearest pediatric urgent care. They told me she was fine and that it was probably just a virus. They gave her some meds for the vomiting so that I could get her home. When I got her home, her ... Read Full Story

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Erik Webb

It all started when I crushed my right foot and it became infected. (Sepsis and Bacterial Infections) After 3 tries with different antibiotics my wound specialist sent me home for the weekend saying if it did not improve he was going to amputate. Next, I woke up from 32 days of induced coma and mech. Ventilator. This story takes place in the spring of 2022, and I still am having issues. No wonder. I was diagnosed with septic shock, kidney injury and failure, liver and respiratory failure, and a. Fib., rhabdomyolysis, delerium, hypoxia, hypercapnia. It goes further but you get ... Read Full Story

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Other Topics

Bacterial Infections