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Diseases reference index «Septicemia»

Septicemia is the presence of bacteria in the blood (bacteremia) and is often associated with severe infections.


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.

Exams 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:

  • Blood culture
  • Blood gases
  • CBC
  • Clotting studies
    • PT
    • PTT
    • Fibrinogen levels
  • CSF culture
  • Culture of any suspect skin lesion
  • Platelet count
  • Urine culture


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.

Outlook (Prognosis)

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.

Possible Complications

Septicemia can rapidly lead to adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), septic shock, and death.

Septicemia associated with meningococci can lead to shock or adrenal collapse ( Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome).

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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.

Alternative Names

Blood poisoning; Bacteremia with sepsis; Systemic infammatory response syndrome (SIRS)

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