Bacteremia is the presence of bacteria in your blood. If you have symptoms, they’re usually mild. Bacteria can enter your blood in different ways, including wounds, medical procedures and even brushing or flossing your teeth too hard. A healthcare provider can diagnose bacteremia with bacterial cultures and prescribe antibiotics to treat it.


What is bacteremia?

Bacteremia is when you have bacteria in your blood. Your blood is typically sterile, meaning it doesn’t have any bacteria or other germs. Bacteria can enter your blood in many possible ways, but it typically happens through skin wounds like cuts, scrapes or burns.

Other common names for bacteremia are bloodstream infection (BSI) and blood poisoning.

How serious is bacteremia?

Bacteremia can be a serious condition, especially in people with weak immune systems that may be unable to fight off infections. Without treatment, bacteremia can cause other infections in your body.

Can bacteremia be fatal?

Yes, without treatment, bacteremia can progress to sepsis. Sepsis can cause organ failure and death.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of bacteremia?

When your immune system recognizes bacteria in your blood, it removes them from your body, usually without any symptoms or only a mild fever. However, if bacteremia progresses to sepsis or septic shock, you may develop symptoms, such as:

What is bacteremia caused by?

Many different kinds of bacteria may cause bacteremia. Some examples include:

These bacteria can enter your body in many different ways, including:

  • Scrapes.
  • Cuts.
  • Burns.
  • Brushing or flossing your teeth too vigorously.
  • Dental procedures, including teeth cleanings or a tooth extraction.
  • Medical procedures, including surgery, catheterization, inserting breathing tubes or blood donations.
  • Reusing or sharing needles.

What is the most common cause of bacteremia?

The most common bacterial causes of bloodstream infections include:

  • E. coli.
  • Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Streptococcal species.


What are the complications of bacteremia?

Without treatment, bacteremia can travel to other areas of your body and cause other conditions, including:

Diagnosis and Tests

How is bacteremia diagnosed?

A healthcare provider can diagnose bacteremia. They’ll conduct a physical examination and ask about your symptoms, including how long you’ve had symptoms.

If the provider suspects you have bacteremia, they’ll order tests to confirm their diagnosis.

What tests will be done to diagnose bacteremia?

A healthcare provider will order bacteria culture tests to help diagnose bacteremia. During these tests, the provider will take samples of bodily fluids to check for the presence of bacteria. Bacteria cultures may include:

  • Blood test. During a blood test, a provider will use a thin needle to withdraw a small amount of blood, usually from a vein in your arm.
  • Sputum test. Sputum (phlegm) is a thick, discolored mucus that comes from deep inside your lungs. You’ll take a deep breath and cough sputum into a special container.
  • Urine test (urinalysis). During a urine test, you’ll pee into a special container.
  • Wound culture. If you have an infected scrape, cut, burn or abscess, the provider will take a sample of fluid or pus from your wound.

The provider may also order X-rays, a computed tomography (CT) scan or an ultrasound to determine where an infection may be in your body.


Management and Treatment

Can bacteremia be cured?

Getting treatment as soon as possible is important if you have signs of bacteremia. A healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics to help treat the infection. They may also remove any medical devices they suspect may be responsible for bacteremia. If you have an abscess, they’ll drain the fluid and pus.

How soon after bacteremia treatment will I feel better?

You should start to feel better a few days after starting antibiotics.

It’s important to finish your full course of antibiotics, even if you start to feel better. If you don’t take your full course of medicine, bacteremia may return. If bacteremia comes back, it may be more challenging to treat and more likely to develop into sepsis or septic shock. If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember.


Can bacteremia be prevented?

The best way to prevent bacteremia is to regularly wash your hands and clean any skin wounds. Clean any scrapes, cuts or burns with antibacterial soap and water. Pat your wound dry with a clean towel, apply a skincare ointment such as Neosporin® or Aquaphor® and cover it with a bandage.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have bacteremia?

With early treatment, the outlook for bacteremia is good. Your body should clear the infection a week or two after you start taking antibiotics.

Without treatment, bacteremia may develop into a more serious condition. If you have signs of an infection, talk to a healthcare provider.

Living With

How do I take care of myself if I have bacteremia?

You may feel some uncomfortable symptoms if you have bacteremia. If you have a healthy immune system, your body should clear the bacteria without treatment. You can help take care of yourself by prioritizing your health and doing things like:

  • Getting at least seven hours of sleep each night.
  • Drinking lots of water.
  • Eating healthy foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables.

When should I see a healthcare provider?

See a healthcare provider if you have any symptoms of bacteremia, especially if your symptoms last more than a few days. Follow up with your provider if your symptoms don’t go away a few days after starting treatment.

When should I go to the ER?

Go to the nearest emergency room if you have signs of sepsis, septic shock or another serious infection, including:

  • A fever over 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius) or higher.
  • Confusion or disorientation.
  • Fast heart rate.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Extreme pain or discomfort.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

  • How did I get bacteremia?
  • What kind of bacteria caused bacteremia?
  • How do I avoid getting bacteremia in the future?
  • What antibiotic do you recommend?
  • Are there any special directions I need to follow while taking antibiotics?
  • How long will it take to feel better?
  • Do I need to schedule a follow-up appointment?
  • What can I do to help alleviate my symptoms at home?

Additional Common Questions

Is bacteremia the same as sepsis?

Bacteremia and sepsis are similar conditions, but they aren’t the same. Bacteremia is bacteria in your bloodstream. Without treatment, bacteremia can progress to sepsis. Sepsis is when your immune system overreacts to the infection and attacks normal tissues and organs. It causes inflammation throughout your body.

What is the difference between bacteremia and septicemia?

Septicemia is more serious than bacteremia. If you have septicemia, you also have bacteria in your blood, but the bacteria are starting to multiply and spread to other areas of your body.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Bacteremia is when you have bacteria in your blood. It may not have any symptoms, and your immune system may clear it on its own. However, if you develop symptoms, you should see a healthcare provider right away. Without treatment, it can progress to a severe infection. Be sure to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions and take your full course of antibiotics to ensure bacteremia doesn’t come back.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 07/21/2023.

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