What is septicemia?
Septicemia is the clinical name for blood poisoning by bacteria. Septicemia that progresses to septic shock has a death rate as high as 50 percent, depending on the type of organism involved. Septicemia is a medical emergency and needs urgent medical treatment.
How does septicemia relate to meningitis
Some bacteria that cause meningitis can also cause septicemia, particularly the meningococcal form. When meningococcus invades the body, it enters from the throat. It then gets into the bloodstream, and travels through the blood to the meninges.
In some cases, the bacteria multiply uncontrollably in the bloodstream. This results in septicemia, before the bacteria can infect the meninges.
In other cases, infection in the bloodstream and in the meninges develops at the same time. These patients develop both septicemia and meningitis.
In a minority of cases, the body can stop the bacteria multiplying in the bloodstream, but not in the meninges. These patients develop meningitis.
What are the symptoms of septicemia?
The following are the most common symptoms of septicemia. However, each person may experience symptoms differently.
Patients with septicemia often develop a hemorrhagic rash—a cluster of tiny blood spots that look like pinpricks in the skin. If untreated, these gradually get bigger and begin to look like fresh bruises. These bruises then join together to form larger areas of purple skin damage and discoloration.
Septicemia develops very quickly. The patient rapidly becomes very ill, and may:
Lose interest in food and surroundings
Feel cold, with cool hands and feet
Become lethargic, anxious, or agitated
Experience a coma and sometimes death
Those who become ill more slowly may also develop some of the signs of meningitis. The symptoms of septicemia may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Treatment for septicemia
Specific treatment for septicemia will be determined by your healthcare provider based on:
Your age, overall health, and medical history
Extent of the condition
Your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the condition
Your opinion or preference
Septicemia is a medical emergency that need immediate medical attention. In most cases, treatment will involve antibiotic medicine.
- Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
- Jasmin, Luc, MD