Information for Patients
Bacteria are living things that have only one cell. Under a microscope, they look like balls, rods, or spirals. They are so small that a line of 1,000 could fit across a pencil eraser. Most bacteria won't hurt you - less than 1 percent of the different types make people sick. Many are helpful. Some bacteria help to digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, and give the body needed vitamins. Bacteria are also used in making healthy foods like yogurt and cheese.
But infectious bacteria can make you ill. They reproduce quickly in your body. Many give off chemicals called toxins, which can damage tissue and make you sick. Examples of bacteria that cause infections include Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and E. coli.
Antibiotics are the usual treatment. When you take antibiotics, follow the directions carefully. Each time you take antibiotics, you increase the chances that bacteria in your body will learn to resist them causing antibiotic resistance. Later, you could get or spread an infection that those antibiotics cannot cure.
Sepsis is a serious illness. It happens when your body has an overwhelming immune response to a bacterial infection. The chemicals released into the blood to fight the infection trigger widespread inflammation. This leads to blood clots and leaky blood vessels. They cause poor blood flow, which deprives your body's organs of nutrients and oxygen. In severe cases, one or more organs fail. In the worst cases, blood pressure drops and the heart weakens, leading to septic shock.
Anyone can get sepsis, but the risk is higher in
- People with weakened immune systems
- Infants and children
- Adults 65 and older
- People with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer, and kidney or liver disease
- People suffering from a severe burn or physical trauma
Common symptoms of sepsis are fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion, and disorientation. Doctors diagnose sepsis using a blood test to see if the number of white blood cells is abnormal. They also do lab tests that check for signs of infection.
People with sepsis are usually treated in hospital intensive care units. Doctors try to treat the infection, sustain the vital organs, and prevent a drop in blood pressure. Many patients receive oxygen and intravenous (IV) fluids. Other types of treatment, such as respirators or kidney dialysis, may be necessary. Sometimes, surgery is needed to clear up an infection.
NIH: National Institute of General Medical Sciences