Learn All About Bacteremia

Bacteremia is the presence of bacteria in the blood, either due to an infection or poor cleaning of surgical supplies, among other possible causes.
Learn All About Bacteremia

Last update: 26 September, 2021

Bacteria are essential microorganisms for the functioning of the planet, and also for the functioning of the human body. We interact with them in both positive and negative ways. Below, we’ll talk about one of the most lethal interactions: bacteremia.

Before we get into this process, we need to explain some of the terminology surrounding bacteria. These small organisms are always around you in each of the activities you do, even if you don’t realize it.

All about bacteria

Bacteria are single-celled organisms that are 0.004 to 0.1 microns in size. They’re prokaryotes, meaning that they lack a cell nucleus and internal membranous organs, unlike human cells.

They have a diverse morphology, depending on the families and species: from spherical (coccus), rodlike (bacillus), or curved (vibrio, spirillum, or spirochete).

The gram staining process differentiates two types of bacteria:

  • Gram-positive. These bacteria stain violet due to the presence of a thick layer of peptidoglycan in their cell walls. These bacteria are mostly found in the digestive tract.
  • Gram-negative. Unlike the former, their cell membranes don’t stain purple. Thus, they give a light pink stain.

This information will be very important in later sections. Now, let’s focus on the topic at hand.

A scientist analyzing bacteria under a microscope.

What’s bacteremia?

This poor prognosis consists of the presence of bacteria capable of multiplying in the blood. A person who’s unfamiliar with this topic might find nothing wrong with this situation, since there are bacteria in our mouth and intestinal tract, not to mention the fact that they cover our entire body.

The answer lies in the immune system once again. Antibodies detect these bacteria in the bloodstream as foreign and trigger an immune response to drive them out.

The bacteria, in turn, travel through the circulatory system as if it were a highway and reach other organs, multiplying at dizzying speeds.

The immune response, added to the damage the bacteria cause, can make the body of the person who suffers from bacteremia shut down, possibly leading to death.

This article may also interest you: What Are the Kinds of Bacteria in Your Mouth?

What types of bacteremia exist?

There are two main types, which refer to the classification we alluded to above:

  • Bacteremia due to gram-positive bacteria
  • Bacteremia due to gram-negative bacteria

Due to gram-positive bacteria

Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Enterococcus species are the gram-positive bacteria responsible for most cases of bacteremia.

Particular attention must be paid to Staphylococcus aureus species, since they’re the most common cause of this condition across America. This bacteria normally inhabits the respiratory tract and skin. Therefore, a poorly managed surgical procedure could put the patient’s life at risk.

Here’s an example. Poorly disinfected instruments used for venous catheter placements can lead to fatal outcomes. If the tube touches the patient’s skin and becomes infected with Staphylococcus, introducing it into the bloodstream gives the bacteria a new environment through with it can reach other organs.

Bacteria in the blood.

Due to gram-negative bacteria

According to a study by Oxford Academic, gram-negative bacteria are responsible for 24% of all cases of bacteremia caused by sanitary processes and 45% of those that occur outside hospitals. In general, these bacteria enter the bloodstream as a result of a respiratory, genitourinary, or gastrointestinal bacterial infection.

This type of bacteremia also mostly affects people 65 years of age or older.

We must also mention the Escherichia coli species. As it’s part of the natural intestinal flora, it causes 75% of cases of gram-negative bacteremia in at-risk patients, due to urinary tract infections.

To know more, you should read: 5 Items in Your Home that Collect Bacteria

And am I at risk for bacteremia?

The answer is reassuring, as, in principle, a healthy person is unlikely to suffer from it. In addition, sanitary processes and disinfection methods and regulations are becoming increasingly more sophisticated.

Nevertheless, there are certain risk factors, such as the following:

  • Liver failure
  • Need for organ transplants
  • Being HIV-positive
  • Age, which we mentioned above

As we explained in previous sections, this process can occur due to poorly disinfected surgical equipment or an uncontrolled infection. The good news is that bacteremia can be treated with antibiotics and the prognosis is usually positive if it’s diagnosed early.

If you suspect you’re suffering a bacterial infection, make sure you go and see a doctor. This way, these microorganisms won’t multiply nor enter the bloodstream.

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