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A to Z: Septicemia

May also be called: Blood Poisoning, Bacteremia With Sepsis

Septicemia (SEP-tuh-SEE-mee-uh), or blood poisoning, is a condition where germs get into the blood and spread throughout the body in the bloodstream.

More to Know

Septicemia happens when germs — usually bacteria but sometimes viruses, fungi, or parasites — get into the bloodstream and spread infection to all parts of the body. There are a number of ways germs can get into the bloodstream, including existing infections (like colds) and from catheters that have been placed in someone’s body for a long time as part of medical treatment.

Septicemia can cause fever, chills, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, weakness, decreased urine output, and confusion or changes to a person’s mental state. Septicemia often leads to sepsis, a condition where the immune system responds to an infection by attacking the body’s own organs and tissues. If untreated, septicemia and sepsis can quickly lead to serious complications that affect the kidneys, lungs, brain, and hearing, and they can even cause death.

Septicemia is more likely in people with poor health due to age or illness, crowded living conditions, or medical treatment that involves surgery, chemotherapy, or medicine that weakens the immune system. Children who have problems with their immune systems, cancer, and poor nutrition are more likely to get septicemia. Treatment for septicemia — which should be started immediately — involves treating the cause of the infection, usually with antibiotic medicine. In some cases, surgery is needed to treat or drain the infection.

Keep in Mind

Septicemia is a serious medical condition that requires immediate treatment, usually in a hospital. If it leads to sepsis and septic shock, septicemia can cause death. However, septicemia can often be prevented by changing long-term catheters frequently and removing them when not needed, and by seeking treatment for infections before they have a chance to spread.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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