What is bacteremia?

Bacteremia is an infection of the blood and it can be detected with a blood culture examination. Essentially when the bacterias are circulated by the blood it is called bacteremia.


As we described earlier bacteremia is caused by infection of blood by bacteria. In layman language, it is also called “Blood poisoning”

Following bacterias are the most common culprits of bacteremia:

The following procedure can induce bacteremia:

  • Toothbrushing and dental procedure.
  • Indwelling catheters.
  • After the surgical procedure.
  • From the wounds and burns.
  • Infection or abscess anywhere in the body.


Normal individuals with immunity adequately active immunity can fight the bacteremia on its own. They may not show symptoms. 

Bacteremia without symptoms is called asymptomatic bacteremia.

If the bacterial strength is sufficiently strong or the immune system fails to fight it may cause harmful effects and may show symptoms.

The most common symptoms are as follows:

  • Fever: Fever is the most common symptom of bacteremia. Fever can be mild to high-grade depending on the cause of infection. It may subside or may keep increasing as time passes.
  • Chills: Chills are severe shaking with shivering mostly occurs before rising of the body temperature and may last till temperature rises. 
  • Malaise and weakness: You may feel malaise or weakness when there is bacteremia. You may feel sick when there is a fever.


Though many people who have bacteremia do not need intervention and they recover by themselves if there are no symptoms. 

When bacteremia patient may show the above-described symptoms of fever with chills, headache, malaise. It may spread bacteria from one body organ to another.

Bacteria by this method can infect multiple sites of the body. Depending on which part of the body they infect the symptoms are seen.

The possible risks with bacteremia include:

  • Meningitis
  • Brain abscess
  • Endocarditis
  • Infection in joints
  • Abscesses in other body parts
  • Sepsis
  • Septic shock

People with high risk

The following group of people may have a high risk from bacteremia:

  • Neonates and infants.
  • Adults with old age.
  • Adults who have uncontrolled diabetes Mellitus and hypertension.
  • Those who are on immunosuppressant therapy.
  • Those who have an organ transplant.
  • HIV and AIDS patients.
  • Severely malnourished children and adults.
  • People who have a habit of drug abuse.


Most of the time the asymptomatic cases may go undetected as it may not have any symptoms and your immunity clears it by itself.

It can be detected by the following tests.

Blood culture

If the blood culture sample was taken at the time of bacteremia that is when bacteria are circulating in the blood they can be detected with this test. 

For this test special method of blood collection and transport is needed. The wrong method may contaminate the sample with bacteria present on the skin.

Culture from wound

If the suspected cause is a wound or surgical site then a sample taken from the place will show bacteria on culture examination.


Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms. 

Asymptomatic patients may not be treated. 


The mainstay of the therapy is antibiotics. Antibiotics are decided based on which bacteria were detected on culture examination. Initially, broad-spectrum antibiotics are selected and they are modified depending on the culture examination report.

For a patient with mild symptoms and who can take medicines orally, oral antibiotics can be given. Such patients may not need admission to the hospital.

For patients who are seriously ill, and having chances of further complications IV antibiotics and hospital admission is needed.

Supportive therapy

We have discussed earlier bacteremia can cause multiple complications. For complications like meningitis supportive therapy with antibiotics is very important. 

Serious patients may need admission to ICU for continuous monitoring and life support treatment.

<span class="has-inline-color has-luminous-vivid-orange-color">Dr Yatin Bhole MBBS DCh DNB</span>
Dr Yatin Bhole MBBS DCh DNB

This article was written by Dr. Yatin Bhole who is a practicing Pediatrician at Bhole Children Clinic, Ravet. This post is for general information and before applying it to yourself, you should meet your doctor or meet us in person.

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