What is it?

Septicaemia is the presence of bacteria in the blood that may give rise to symptoms. It is a serious infection that usually spreads from some other part of the body to the blood, where the bacteria multiply. Septicaemia is sometimes associated with meningitis and is called meningococcal septicaemia. This is a more dangerous form of the disease.

What are the causes?

Septicaemia is a life threatening infection caused by bacteria. These infections generally originate in the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary tract. Sometimes, the infection may be in the bones or the central nervous system. Once these bacteria spread to the blood stream, they cause symptoms that can rapidly lead to septic shock and death.The bacteria that are present in the blood may affect all vital organs in the body. If the kidneys are affected, the patient stops passing urine and develops kidney failure. If the brain is affected, the patient becomes drowsy.

What are the symptoms?

The patient appears very sick and may have other symptoms like: Fever and chills Nausea and vomiting Cold hands and feet Rapid breathing Muscle pain Loss of consciousness Fall in blood pressure (shock)In some cases, there may be a rash on the body which are actually spots formed due to leakage of blood under the skin.

How is the diagnosis made?

Septicaemia is a condition that should be diagnosed as soon as possible. Though the rash is commonly self explanatory, presence of other symptoms like low blood pressure and low body temperature may be indicative of the condition. Blood tests help to confirm the diagnosis. A blood test studies the platelet count, levels of clotting factors and the total cell count. A blood culture and urine culture may also be required. The glass test is an easy test to confirm the diagnosis. In this test, a glass is pressed to the skin. Usually the blood in the surrounding areas drains out and the skin becomes pale. However, the septicaemic spots remain red. These spots soon become purple blotches, which may look like bruises.In a baby, some specific symptoms may indicate serious infection. These include a high pitched moaning cry, difficulty in waking up, refusal to feed, pale and blotchy skin. In older children, there may be joint stiffness accompanied by cold and clammy hands. There may be severe headache with an intense dislike for bright lights. The child may appear confused and drowsy.

What is the treatment?

The condition usually requires hospitalisation, sometimes in the intensive care unit (ICU). Intravenous (IV) fluids are given to maintain the blood pressure and oxygen may have to be given so that the vital organs are not deprived. Strong antibiotic drugs are given intravenously to contain the infection. Blood and other tests are done to identify the causal organism and to prescribe more precise treatment. Transfusion of blood or blood products like platelets may be required in some patients.

What are the prevention?

Localised infections must be treated as soon as they are identified. This helps to prevent the entry of the bacteria into the blood. HIB vaccine for children reduces the incidence of septicaemia. Children who have had their spleen removed are more prone to later infections and should receive preventive vaccination against these.

DoctorNDTV Team

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