Bacteremia occurs when bacteria get in your blood. Normal blood does not usually have bacteria. Bacteremia is one way infections can spread from one part of the body to another.


  • Causes may include anything that allows bacteria to get into the body. Examples are:

  • Catheters.

  • Intravenous (IV) access tubes.

  • Cuts or scrapes of the skin.

  • Temporary bacteremia may occur during dental procedures, while brushing your teeth, or during a bowel movement. This rarely causes any symptoms or medical problems.

  • Bacteria may also get in the bloodstream as a complication of a bacterial infection elsewhere. This includes infected wounds and bacterial infections of the:

  • Lungs (pneumonia).

  • Kidneys (pyelonephritis).

  • Intestines (enteritis, colitis).

  • Organs in the abdomen (appendicitis, cholecystitis, diverticulitis).


The body is usually able to clear small numbers of bacteria out of the blood quickly. Brief bacteremia usually does not cause problems.

  • Problems can occur if the bacteria start to grow in number or spread to other parts of the body. If the bacteria start growing, you may develop:

  • Chills.

  • Fever.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Sweating.

  • Lightheadedness and low blood pressure.

  • Pain.

  • If bacteria start to grow in the linings around the brain, it is called meningitis. This can cause severe headaches, many other problems, and even death.

  • If bacteria start to grow in a joint, it causes arthritis with painful joints. If bacteria start to grow in a bone, it is called osteomyelitis.

  • Bacteria from the blood can also cause sores (abscesses) in many organs, such as the muscle, liver, spleen, lungs, brain, and kidneys.


  • This condition is diagnosed by cultures of the blood.

  • Cultures may also be taken from other parts of the body that are thought to be causing the bacteremia. A small piece of tissue, fluid, or other product of the body is sampled. The sample is then put on a growth plate to see if any bacteria grows.

  • Other lab tests may be done and the results may be abnormal.


Treatment requires a stay in the hospital. You will be given antibiotic medicine through an IV access tube.


People with an increased risk of developing bacteremia or complications may be given antibiotics before certain procedures. Examples are:

  • A person with a heart murmur or artificial heart valve, before having his or her teeth cleaned.

  • Before having a surgical or other invasive procedure.

  • Before having a bowel procedure.