Septicemia is an infection that occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream and spread. It can lead to sepsis, the body’s reaction to the infection, which can cause organ damage and even death. Septicemia is more common in people who are hospitalized or have other medical conditions. It requires immediate medical attention and antibiotic treatment.
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.
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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.
Anyone can get septicemia, but it’s more common in people who:
Almost any type of germ can cause septicemia. The ones most often responsible are bacteria, including:
Septicemia can lead to sepsis, which is a life-threatening medical emergency. It can cause tissue damage, organ failure and even death.
Bacteria, viruses and fungi can enter the bloodstream in many ways, for example:
The body usually can remove a small number of germs naturally. But if germs continue to grow and spread, that can lead to septicemia.
Early septicemia symptoms are:
Septicemia diagnosis is based on:
Depending on your symptoms, you might need other tests to check for damage to tissues and organs.
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.
If treatment is effective, you can start to feel better in weeks or months. More serious cases may take longer.
You can lessen the chances of developing septicemia by:
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.
You can’t spread septicemia to other people. But you can spread germs easily, so wash your hands often.
Septicemia is a medical emergency. Be aware of the signs, and call a healthcare provider if you have any the following:
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/17/2021.
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