Is bacteremia harmful?

The human body is indeed a marvel. Have you ever wondered what will happen if there is a missing organ or body structure? Certainly, it can make life difficult or we may not be alive at this point. Certain diseases or health conditions can cause humans to feel sick and unable to live a healthy functioning life. The fact that humans are not the only living being to live on this earth, makes us humans vulnerable to infections as we live with microorganisms. In this DoctorOnCall’s article, we will learn about bacteria.

Before speaking more on bacteraemia, what is bacteria? Bacteria is a single-celled organism. It can be found anywhere on Earth and plays a role in maintaining the planet’s ecosystems. Most bacteria are not actually harmful. Proof is, there are already many bacteria living on our skin and inside our bowel. You may have not realised these bacteria or known as the good bacteria help the human body to function well and stay healthy. Even so, there are certainly bacteria that can cause harm to humans. These bacteria are the cause of bacterial infection in humans.

Bacteraemia refers to viable bacteria presence in blood. Bacteremia typically occurs in normal daily activities such as from vigorous toothbrushing or minor medical procedures such as dental procedures and catheters. Healthy individuals might show symptoms of mild infections that are transient when bacteremia affects them. The question of “is bacteremia harmful” is best answered with not necessarily but it might be. Bacteremia can be harmful for those with weakened immune systems. Bacteremia can also be harmful when it is prolonged and begin to become large enough to be causing symptoms. Otherwise, bacteremia that is small in number are able to be removed by the human body via blood circulation and the immune system.

Bacteremia that occurs from ordinary activities usually does not cause infections since the number of bacteria is often small and cleared by the body. When bacteria is present in the body for a long period of time and is in big numbers, it is enough to cause symptoms. Bacteria that are not removed by the immune system will deposit on certain parts of the body such as the brain, heart valves, heart, bones and joints. These body parts that have accumulated bacteria will show symptoms related to the affected part such as meningitis where bacterial infections of the brain leading to fever and loss of consciousness.

The main symptom of bacteremia is the presence of fever. Some patients may or may not have chills. Other symptoms will depend on the organs affected. Where the bacteria has deposited. When bacteremia is suspected, finding the source of infection will help health professionals to tackle it by providing appropriate treatment. Tests such as blood cultures, urinalysis and imaging tests such as x-ray or CT-scan are among common tests to check for the bacteria. By knowing the kind of bacteria affecting a patient, doctors can prescribe the right antibiotics to eradicate the infection. Doctors may also remove the identified sources of the bacteria such as catheters. In most cases of bacteremia causing symptoms, hospitalisation is needed.

Bacteremia can pose a great danger when it progresses into sepsis. Sepsis is a bodywide response as the immune system overreacts to infection and begins to attack normal tissue or organs. Symptoms of sepsis include blood pressure drops, fast breathing, confusions, rapid heartbeat and warm skin. Due to the fact that bacteremia and sepsis both show fever as its main obvious symptom, relying alone on symptoms is not enough. This is where tests are needed to evaluate the presence of the bacteria and the extent of damages done by the infection. Severe sepsis can cause organ damage and lead to septic shock. Septic shock is the severe form of bacterial infection. 3 out of 10 patients with severe sepsis die in hospital. Half of patients with septic shock are unable to survive. Sepsis can progress into septic shock in less than 24 hours.

It can be concluded that bacteremia in general is not harmful if it is caused by daily routine activities. Bacteremia caused by medical procedures can be a concern. Those who are immunocompromised can be easily affected by bacteremia. Bacteremia may not produce any symptoms or only cause mild fever. Bacteremia that goes untreated can leave the human body with a high number of bacteria. This will then cause symptoms that can progress into life-threatening events such as sepsis. Main treatment of bacteraemia is antibiotics. Blood culture is the mainstay of diagnosing bacteremia. We should be lucky to be living in the modern world as there are better antibiotics options and vaccines that help to minimise the risk for bacteremia when compared to decades ago. In the old days, the chances of dying from bacteremia was more than 20%. Again, it is important to tackle bacteremia as it can lead to death if it is not managed well.