What Are The Different Types Of Blood Infections?

different types of blood infections

We live in a world filled with germs and often fall prey to infections that invade our bodies. It could be a skin infection, ear infection, or chest infection. But, more rarely, germs can also cause a blood infection. And all the usual suspects – bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites – can infect your blood. Here’s a closer look at these blood infections.

Bacterial Blood Infection: Septicemia

A wide range of bacteria can enter your bloodstream. And though bacteria may infect you through a wound or burn, septicemia often results from another infection such as a urinary tract infection or pneumonia.1 Once it gets in the blood, bacteria can travel to other organs and tissues and damage them. Septicemia is more likely to develop in young children or older people as their immune systems may not be strong enough to resist the bacteria. A compromised immune system or recent surgery can also up your risk.

Sepsis is a rare complication of an infection and is a medical emergency. While this is most commonly caused by bacterial infections, sepsis can also be the result of fungal or viral infections. High or low temperatures, shivering, chills, fast breathing, and rapid heartbeats are early signs of sepsis.2

Some signs of a bacterial infection in the blood include high temperature, chills and violent shivering, fatigue, clammy pale skin, and shallow rapid breathing. You may also notice pinprick bruises or large purplish splotches on your skin. In severe cases, chemicals and proteins released by your body in the blood to fight the infection can damage blood vessels and affect blood flow. This can result in low blood pressure and eventually damage critical organs like your kidneys or your brain. It’s important to seek medical help immediately for septicemia as a delay can cause irreparable damage to your body and even be fatal.3

Viral Blood Infection: Viremia

Viruses can invade your body when you inhale them in – it could be droplets from the cough or sneeze of someone with an airborne infection. You could also swallow them by having contaminated food or water or be infected through insect bites or through sexual contact.4 They can enter your blood through capillaries and replicate in cells that line your blood vessels. And once in your blood, these viruses have access to almost every tissue in your body. Some common viruses that can infect your blood include dengue virus, rubella virus, influenza virus, polio virus, hepatitis B virus, and HIV. The symptoms of an infection can vary depending on the organism that’s causing it.5

Fungal Blood Infection: Fungemia

Many fungi like Aspergillus and Saccharomyces cerevisiae can cause fungemia.6 But the most common fungus that can infect your blood is Candida. This microorganism usually lives on your skin or gastrointestinal tract without causing any issues. Even when it does affect your health, it usually means minor infections like thrush and vaginal yeast infection. But in some people, fungi can enter the bloodstream and cause a potentially life-threatening infection. A bloodstream infection by candida – candidemia – is more likely in people who are using a central venous catheter, have a compromised immune system, take broad-spectrum antibiotics, have kidney failure or diabetes, or are in the ICU or have had surgery. In fact, it is the most common bloodstream infection in people who are hospitalized in the United States.7 8

Parasitic Blood Infection

Some parasites can invade your bloodstream and even spread through exposure to infected blood. Examples of such parasites include:

  • Trypanosoma brucei: Causes African trypanosomiasis or “sleeping sickness,” spread by the tsetse fly.9
  • Babesia: Causes babesiosis, spread by ticks.10
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  • Trypanosoma cruzi: Causes American trypanosomiasis or Chagas disease, transmitted by certain insects.11
  • Plasmodium: Causes malaria, spread by mosquitoes.12

These parasites don’t just enter your blood but can affect other organs as well. For instance, the malaria parasite first infects liver cells and then red blood cells while trypanosomes first infect blood, subcutaneous tissues, and lymph and then get across the blood-brain barrier to reach the central nervous system.