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Septicemia

What is septicemia?

Septicemia is the clinical name for blood poisoning. 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 requires 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, gets into the bloodstream, and travels through the blood to the meninges.

  • In some cases, the bacteria multiply uncontrollably in the bloodstream, which 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, and 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, and these patients develop meningitis.

What are the symptoms of septicemia?

The following are the most common symptoms of septicemia. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Patients with septicemia often develop a hemorrhagic rash--a cluster of tiny blood spots that look like pin pricks 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

  • Become feverish

  • 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 consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

Treatment for septicemia

Specific treatment for septicemia will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Septicemia is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention. In most cases, treatment will involve antibiotic medication.

Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marcellin, Lindsey, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/11/2012
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