What is septicemia?
Septicemia, sometimes called blood poisoning, is an infection that occurs when germs get into the bloodstream and spread. The germs are usually bacteria but also can be viruses or fungi.
Septicemia vs. sepsis: How can I tell the difference?
Some people use the words septicemia and sepsis as if they mean the same thing. But technically, septicemia is an infection that happens when bacteria or other germs enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body. That can trigger sepsis, which is the body’s reaction to the infection.
Who might get blood poisoning?
Anyone can get septicemia, but it’s more common in people who:
- Are in the hospital or have had recent surgery (especially those who have catheters or IVs).
- Are very old or very young.
- Have had septicemia before.
- Have infections or other chronic medical conditions (for example, diabetes or cancer).
- Have severe injuries, such as extensive burns or open wounds.
- Have weak immune systems.
What germs can cause septicemia?
Almost any type of germ can cause septicemia. The ones most often responsible are bacteria, including:
- Staphylococcus aureus.
- Streptococcus pneumoniae.
- E. coli.
How does septicemia affect my body?
Septicemia can lead to sepsis, which is a life-threatening medical emergency. It can cause tissue damage, organ failure and even death.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes septicemia?
Bacteria, viruses and fungi can enter the bloodstream in many ways, for example:
- Abscessed tooth.
- Germs on medical equipment (such as surgical tools and needles).
- Kidney infection.
- Skin ulcers or other wounds.
- Urinary tract infection.
The body usually can remove a small number of germs naturally. But if germs continue to grow and spread, that can lead to septicemia.
What are the signs of septicemia?
Early septicemia symptoms are:
- High fever.
- Drop in blood pressure.
Diagnosis and Tests
How is septicemia diagnosed?
Septicemia diagnosis is based on:
- Presence of septicemia symptoms.
- Blood tests to identify a bacterium, virus or fungus.
Depending on your symptoms, you might need other tests to check for damage to tissues and organs.
Management and Treatment
How is septicemia treated?
Septicemia requires immediate treatment to prevent the condition from worsening to sepsis. Infections caused by bacteria are treated with antibiotics. The type of antibiotic you need depends on the type of bacteria that caused the infection. If the infection is caused by a virus or fungus, treatment will include an antiviral or antifungal medication. Your healthcare provider also may recommend draining blood and fluid from the infected area.
How soon after septicemia treatment will I feel better?
If treatment is effective, you can start to feel better in weeks or months. More serious cases may take longer.
How can I reduce my risk of septicemia?
You can lessen the chances of developing septicemia by:
- Getting all recommended vaccines.
- Keeping any wounds clean and covered.
- Taking good care of any medical conditions by following your healthcare provider’s instructions.
- Washing your hands regularly.
Outlook / Prognosis
What is the outlook for people with septicemia?
Septicemia must be treated quickly to be effective. If not, septicemia can lead to sepsis and septic shock, which is often fatal.
People who’ve had septicemia and recovered are more likely to have it again in the future.
Is septicemia contagious?
You can’t spread septicemia to other people. But you can spread germs easily, so wash your hands often.
When should I seek medical attention for septicemia?
Septicemia is a medical emergency. Be aware of the signs, and call a healthcare provider if you have any the following:
- High fever.
- Drop in blood pressure.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Septicemia is an infection that occurs when germs get into the bloodstream and spread. It’s a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention and antibiotic treatment. You can reduce your risk of septicemia by practicing good hand-washing, taking proper care of wounds and managing other health conditions properly.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy