Bacteremia is the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream.
Most bacteremia is temporary, has no symptoms, and will usually not lead to serious infection. However, bacteremia can also lead to serious infections. The risk is highest in those with weakened immune systems. Bacteremia that causes symptoms requires treatment to prevent more severe infections.
Bacteria are normally present in certain areas of the body. For example, it can be found on the skin and inside the mouth, nose, throat, large intestine, and vagina. Small tears or damage in these tissue can allow the bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This can happen during everyday activities, like vigorous toothbrushing, or certain medical procedures. Bacteremia may also be caused by an infection that is already in the body, such as pneumonia, urinary tract, or ear infection.
Once bacteria enters the blood, the immune system will normally remove it. The quick removal of bacteria will stop other infections from developing. Complications of bacteremia usually develop if:
This can lead to infections anywhere in the body such as lungs, heart, brain, or bone. Growth of the bacteria in the bloodstream can also lead to sepsis, a body wide infection.
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Certain medical or dental procedures can cause bacteremia. Higher risk activities include:
The risk of developing a serious infection from bacteremia is increased with:
Bacteremia symptoms can vary depending on the amount of bacteria present.
Bacteremia can lead to a number of serious complications such as infections of:
Untreated complications can lead to disability, organ failure, and death.
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done, including specific questions about recent medical treatments or surgery.
Blood tests will be done to see if your body if responding to an infection.
If bacteremia is suspected, a blood culture test will be done to identify the specific bacteria causing the problem. Identifying the specific bacteria may help with treatment decisions.
Bacteremia that is not causing symptoms may not need treatment. The body’s immune system will control and remove the bacteria.
Bacteremia that causes symptoms or infections is treated with antibiotics. The antibiotics may be later adjusted if the blood culture find a bacteria that requires specific antibiotics.
Other symptoms associated with the location of the infection or sepsis will need to be treated.
Antibiotics may be recommended before high-risk procedures if a child is at high risk for infection. This includes children with weakened immune systems or medical implants. The antibiotics will eliminate bacteria that enter into the blood before they can cause problems.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Updated May 2016. Accessed August 23, 2017.
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Updated November 2015. Accessed August 23, 2017.
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Last reviewed September 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 10/3/2016