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Bacteraemia, also called blood poisoning, is the proliferation of bacteria in the blood stream. Bacteraemia can result from infections (like pneumonia or meningitis), dental or medical procedures (especially when it involves mucous membranes) and from catheters or other foreign bodies entering the body.

Usually, bacteraemia presents no symptoms because bacteria entering the blood stream are rapidly removed by the immune system. However, bacteraemia can cause serious infections if they are present long enough in large numbers in certain tissues and organs such as in the brain, heart, bones and joints. If the body has a weakened immune response, bacteraemia can cause a potential life-threatening complication called sepsis.

Bacteraemia is most often diagnosed by blood culture. It is important to seek medical assistance if fever, rapid heart rate and rapid breathing are experienced with bacteraemia because sepsis is most likely. The hallmark of treatment for bacteraemia is antibiotics.



Bacteraemia can result even from the most ordinary activities. Tooth decay may also result in severe consequences, such as bacteraemia and heart attack. For instance, vigorous tooth brushing can force bacteria in the gum pockets into the bloodstream. The same blood reaches the heart and causes heart disease. Other causes include catheterizations, urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal surgery exploration or surgical management of infected wounds, and intravenous drug use. Treatment may be dependent on the cause.

Signs and Symptoms

Bacteraemia usually presents no symptoms. However, if bacteraemia is associated with other medical conditions, any of the following symptoms may be present:

  • A sudden high fever
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Body weakness
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

Bacteraemia may lead to septic shock, whose symptoms include decreased consciousness, rapid heart rate and rapid breathing. In severe cases, death may also result.

Test and Diagnosis

Bacteraemia is most often diagnosed by blood cultures wherein a blood sample is incubated in a medium to promote growth of bacteria. The result is typically obtained after 24 to 48 hours. Blood analysis may also reveal an increased number of white blood cells which signals occurrence of infection. There is a close monitoring for blood pressure because a sudden decline may indicate a septic shock.

Other tests may be ordered to identify the source of infection which may include urinalysis, CT scans, wound cultures, ultrasounds, X-rays and MRI scan.


The mainstay treatment for bacteraemia is antibiotics. The choice of antibiotic therapy solely relies on the likely causes of bacteraemia obtained from laboratory results. Strict monitoring is always carried out to guard against septic shock. It is very important that bacteraemia is treated at its earliest stage. The sooner the treatment begins, the better are the chances of a complete recovery. If bacteraemia is left untreated, fatal complications may arise.

Prophylactic antibiotics are given to those people who are at most risk of complications (such as those with heart valve abnormalities) before the procedures such as insertion of bladder catheters, surgical wound treatments and dental procedures.


Bacteria entering the bloodstream can easily proliferate in large numbers can easily spread to vital organs and tissues which can lead to organ inflammations, abscesses, and meningitis.  Bacteria in the blood also can lead to sepsis, shock, unusual blood clotting, organ failure and ultimately death.


Bacteraemia is a condition in which local infections spread to organs that are distant, often termed as hematogenous spread. Bacteraemia is normally temporary and is not continuous because of your immune system response which detects the problem and tries to rectify it.