Septicemia is the presence of bacteria in the blood (bacteremia) and is often associated with severe infections.
Blood poisoning; Bacteremia with sepsis; Systemic infammatory response syndrome (SIRS)
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Septicemia is a serious, life-threatening infection that gets worse very quickly. It can arise from infections throughout the body, including infections in the lungs, abdomen, and urinary tract. It may come before or at the same time as infections of the bone (osteomyelitis), central nervous system (meningitis), heart (endocarditis), or other tissues.
Septicemia can begin with spiking fevers, chills, rapid breathing, and rapid heart rate. The person looks very ill.
The symptoms rapidly progress to shock with fever or decreased body temperature (hypothermia), falling blood pressure, confusion or other changes in mental status, and blood clotting problems that lead to a specific type of red spots on the skin (petechiae and ecchymosis).
There may be decreased or no urine output.
Signs and tests
A physical examination may show:
- Low blood pressure
- Low body temperature or fever
- Signs of associated disease (such as meningitis, epiglottitis, pneumonia, or cellulitis)
Tests that can confirm infection include:
Septicemia is a serious condition that requires a hospital stay. You may be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU).
Fluids and medicines are given by an IV to maintain the blood pressure.
Oxygen will be given. Antibiotics are used to treat the infection.
Plasma or other blood products may be given to correct any clotting abnormalities.
What to expect depends on the organism involved and how quickly the patient is hospitalized and treatment begins. The death rate is high -- more than 50% for some organisms.
Calling your health care provider
Septicemia is not common but is devastating. Early recognition may prevent progression to shock.
Seek immediate care if:
- A person has a fever, shaking chills, and looks very ill
- Any person who has been ill has changes in mental status
- There are signs of bleeding into the skin
Call your health care provider if your child's vaccinations are not up-to-date.
Appropriate treatment of localized infections can prevent septicemia. The Haemophilus influenza B (HIB) vaccine and S. pneumoniae vaccine have already reduced the number of cases of septicemia in children. Both are recommended childhood immunizations.
In certain cases, people who are in close contact with someone with septicemia may be prescribed preventative antibiotics.
Enrione MA, Powell KR. Sepsis, septic shock, and systemic inflammatory response syndrome. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th Ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007: chap 176.
Munford RS. Sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2005: chap 67.
Shapiro NI, Zimmer GD, Barkin AZ. Sepsis syndromes. In: Marx, JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006: chap 136.
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.