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.
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.
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.
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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:
Many different kinds of bacteria may cause bacteremia. Some examples include:
These bacteria can enter your body in many different ways, including:
The most common bacterial causes of bloodstream infections include:
Without treatment, bacteremia can travel to other areas of your body and cause other conditions, including:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Go to the nearest emergency room if you have signs of sepsis, septic shock or another serious infection, including:
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.
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.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/21/2023.
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