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Blood Infection: what is it, symptoms and treatment

Updated in October 2019

A blood infection is caused by the presence of microorganisms in the blood, mainly fungi and bacteria, leading to symptoms such as high fever, low blood pressure, increased heartbeat and nausea, for example. When the infection is not properly diagnosed and treated, the microorganism can spread into the bloodstream and reach other organs, which can lead to complications and organ failure.

The severity of the infection depends on the infecting microorganism and the response of the infected person's body, because people with compromised or ineffective immune systems are more susceptible to this type of infection and treatment is usually more complicated.

The treatment for blood infection is done according to the microorganism identified by laboratory tests and can be done with the use of antibiotics or antifungals according to medical recommendation and the results of cultures and sensitivity profile of microorganisms to medications.

Blood Infection: what is it, symptoms and treatment

Main Symptoms

A blood infection can be perceived through some signs and symptoms, such as:

  • High fever;
  • Increased respiratory rate;
  • Decrease in blood pressure;
  • Increased heartbeat frequency;
  • Memory loss or mental confusion;
  • Dizziness;
  • Fatigue;
  • Chills;
  • Vomiting or nausea;
  • Mental confusion.

Once the signs or symptoms of blood infection are identified, it is important to go to the doctor so that the symptoms you describe can be evaluated and tests ordered to confirm the blood infection so that treatment can be started and complications avoided.

Is a blood infection serious?

A blood infection can be severe according to the microorganism identified in the blood and the body's responsiveness to infection. Therefore, newborns, the elderly, and people with immune system deficiencies are more likely to have a more severe blood infection.

Some microorganisms have a high infectious capacity, being able to rapidly proliferate and spread through the bloodstream, reaching other organs and characterizing septic shock or septicemia. If this infection is not identified quickly and properly treated, organ failure can result in death.

Possible Causes of a Blood Infection

A blood Infection may be a consequence of other infections such as urinary tract infection, pneumonia or meningitis, for example, arising after surgery, due to infection of surgical wounds, or placement of medical devices such as catheters and probes, for example, being considered a hospital infection, related to health care.

Blood Infection: what is it, symptoms and treatment

How is the diagnosis reached

The diagnosis of a blood infection is mainly done by laboratory tests and cultures. The main test performed to identify microorganisms in the bloodstream is a blood culture, which is usually done during hospitalization and consists of the collection of blood by a trained professional, and may identify bacteria and / or fungi in the bloodstream.

The collected blood is placed in a container called "blood culture bottle" and sent to the laboratory for analysis. The bottle is placed in an equipment that is able to provide the proper environment for the growth of microorganisms. The bottles remain in the equipment for 7 days to 10 days, however positive cultures are identified within the first 3 days. After the positivity of the sample is detected, the blood contained in the bottle is used to make a slide and can be seen under the microscope to identify the characteristics of the microorganism.

In addition to microscopic identification, a culture is grown in a suitable culture environment so that the microorganism can be isolated and then the species and antimicrobials to which this species is sensitive or resistant are identified, so that the best treatment can be prescribed.

Blood counts may also be requested for confirmation of infection, in which the amount of leukocytes, which in the case of infection is elevated, as well as the C-Reactive Protein (CRP) dosage is verified. Other tests may also be requested to confirm the spread of the organism in the body, such as urine culture, wound secretion culture, computed tomography and ultrasound. See the purpose of doing a complete blood count.

If a viral infection is suspected in the blood, serological and molecular tests are performed to identify the virus, its concentration in the blood, so that the treatment can be prescribed because viruses are not identified by blood culture.

How to treat

The treatment demands that you be admitted to a hospital and is determined according to the microorganism identified in the blood. In cases of bacterial infection, the use of antibiotics, which is defined according to the sensitivity profile of the bacteria, is recommended. In cases of fungal infections, the use of antifungals is indicated according to the antifungigram result.

It may also be recommended to use blood pressure medication, as well as low doses of corticosteroids and insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.

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