Bacteremia, Suspected (Adult)

Bacteremia is a bacterial infection that has spread to the bloodstream. This is serious because it can spread to other organs, including the kidneys, brain, and lungs.

Your healthcare provider will order lab and imaging tests, including blood cultures to check for bacteremia and to determine the type of bacteria that may be present. Antibiotics are often started before the results of the blood cultures are available.


Bacteremia usually starts with a local infection, but it then spreads to the blood. Almost any type of infection can cause bacteremia, including a urinary tract infection, skin infection, gastrointestinal problem, surgical complication, or pneumonia.


At first symptoms may seem like any local infection or illness, but then they worsen. Symptoms of bacteremia can include:

  • Fever and chills

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Trouble breathing or fast breathing

  • Fast heart rate

  • Feeling lightheaded or faint

  • Skin rashes or blotches

  • Confusion, severe sleepiness, or loss of consciousness

Home care

People with bacteremia are almost always treated in the hospital. After the most severe part of the illness has gotten better, you may be discharged home to complete treatment.

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home.

  • Rest at home for the first 2 to 3 days. When resuming activity, don't let yourself become overly tired.

  • You can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, unless you were given a different pain medicine to use. (Note: If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or have ever had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk to your provider if you are taking medicine to prevent blood clots.) Aspirin should never be given to anyone younger than 18 years of age who is ill with a viral infection or fever. It may cause severe liver or brain damage.

  • If you were given antibiotics, take them until they are used up, or your healthcare provider tells you to stop. It is important to finish the antibiotics even though you feel better. This is to make sure the infection has cleared.

  • Your appetite may be poor, so a light diet is fine. Drink plenty of fluids (6 to 8 glasses of fluid per day). This includs water, soft drinks, sports drinks, juices, tea, or soup.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

  • Once the results of the blood culture are available, your healthcare provider may change your antibiotic. You can call as directed for the results.

  • If X-rays, a CT, or an ultrasound were done, a specialist will review them. You will be notified of any findings that may affect your care.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing, or wheezing

  • Chest pain

  • Confusion or sudden change in behavior

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Low blood pressure

  • Vomiting blood, or large amounts of blood in stool

  • Seizure

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Cough with lots of colored mucus, or blood in your mucus

  • Severe headache

  • Severe face, neck, throat, or ear pain

  • Pain in the abdomen

  • Weakness, dizziness, repeated vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Joint pain or a new rash

  • Burning when urinating

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

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