What are Bacteria?
Bacteria are microscopic single-cell microorganisms (microbes) that are all around us. Most are harmless, and many are helpful. For example, bacteria in your intestines (gut) help break down the food you eat so your body can digest it. However, some types of bacteria can cause bacterial infections, which in turn can cause sepsis.
Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Bacterial infections are the most common cause of sepsis.
An infection may begin as a bacterial infection. Or a bacterial infection may follow a viral infection that does not get better. When a viral infection doesn't get better for 10 days or more, or when a viral infection starts to improve and then unexpectedly gets worse, a bacterial infection may be more likely.
A bacterial infection usually affects a single area in the body, such as the sinuses, lungs, ears, or urinary tract. Common bacterial infections include sinusitis, pneumonia, strep throat, ear infections, and bladder infections. If untreated, a bacterial infection can spread to the bloodstream. This condition is called bacteremia.
What are the symptoms of a bacterial infection?
Bacterial infections present in many ways, depending on the part of the body affected. If you have bacterial pneumonia, you may experience
- Cough, with phlegm
- Shortness of breath
- Shaking chills
- Muscle pain
- Chest pain with breathing
The common element with most bacterial infections are:
- Pain or discomfort in the affected area
But if the infection is in a joint, that joint and the surrounding area will likely hurt; if you have a sinus infection, you will probably have a headache and foul nasal discharge, and so on.
Treatment of Bacterial Infections
Most often, treatment for a bacterial infection is with antibiotics. They could be taken orally (by pill, liquid, or capsule), injection, drops, topical (cream or ointment), or intravenously (by IV).
The treatment may be very short, or it could go as long as several weeks, depending on the type of infection and how it reacts to the antibiotics. Sometimes, the infection will not go away, and your doctor may have to try a different type of antibiotic.
Examples of bacterial infections
Bacteria must enter your body for them to cause an infection. So you can get a bacterial infection through an opening in your skin, such as a cut, a bug bite, or a surgical wound. Bacteria can also enter your body through your airway and cause infections like bacterial pneumonia. Other types of bacterial infections include urinary tract infections (including bladder and kidney infections) and dental abscesses, as well as infections caused by MRSA, Group B Streptococcus, and C. Difficile.
Sometimes bacterial infections are “secondary infections.” For example, if you contract COVID-19 – a virus – your body is weakened and could develop bacterial pneumonia. You would then be fighting both viral infection and a bacterial one.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection obtained by the bite of a tick. Symptoms associated with Lyme disease start as a red rash or a bull's eye rash and can lead to fevers, headaches, body aches, stiff muscles, and fatigue. Lyme disease is often hard to diagnose but can be treated once properly diagnosed.