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ICD-10 A49.9 (NOS)
ICD-9 790.7
MeSH D016470

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Bacteremia (Bacteræmia in British English, also known as blood poisoning or toxemia) is the presence of bacteria in the blood. Bacteremia is different to sepsis in that it refers to the presence, not the replication, of pathogens.


Bacteremia is most commonly diagnosed by blood culture, in which a sample of blood is allowed to incubate with a medium that promotes bacterial growth. Since blood is normally sterile, this process does not normally lead to the isolation of bacteria. If, however, bacteria are present in the bloodstream at the time the sample is obtained, the bacteria will multiply and can thereby be detected. Any bacteria that incidentally find their way to the culture medium will also multiply. For this reason, blood cultures must be drawn with great attention to sterile process. Occasionally, blood cultures will reveal the presence of bacteria that represent contamination from the skin through which the culture was obtained. Blood cultures must be repeated at intervals to determine if persistent — rather than transient — bacteremia is present.

Excluding endocarditis[edit]

A clinical prediction rule aids in identifying patients with bacteremia from staphylococcus aureus who might develop bacterial endocarditis.<ref name="pmid21653295">{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }} </ref>



Bacteremia is the principal means by which local infections are spread to distant organs (referred to as hematogenous spread). Bacteremia is typically transient rather than continuous, due to a vigorous immune system response when bacteria are detected in the blood. Hematogenous dissemination of bacteria is part of the pathophysiology of meningitis, endocarditis, aortitis, Pott's disease and many other forms of osteomyelitis.

A related condition, septicemia, refers to the presence of bacteria or their toxins in the bloodstream.

Bacteremia, as noted above, frequently elicits a vigorous immune system response. The constellation of findings related to this response (such as fever, chills, or hypotension) is referred to as sepsis. In the setting of more severe disturbances of temperature, respiration, heart rate or white blood cell count, the response is characterized as sepsis syndrome, septic shock, and may result in multiple organ dysfunction syndrome.


In some settings, blood cultures should be repeated to verify cure<ref name="pmid29020307">{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }} </ref><ref name="pmid27296858">{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }} </ref><ref name="pmid15214874">{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }} </ref>:

  • Original infection was gram positive cocci<ref name="pmid29020307"/><ref name="pmid27296858"/> including enterococci<ref>Sayood S, Sutton J, Baures T, Spivak E. The Utility of Repeat Blood Cultures for Bacteremic Urinary Tract Infections and Associated Durations of Therapy. Open Forum Infect Dis. 2017 Oct 1;4(suppl_1):S344–5. doi:10.1093/ofid/ofx163.824</ref>
  • Central venous catheter<ref name="pmid29020307"/> or endovascular source<ref name="pmid27296858"/> presence
  • Hemodialysis<ref name="pmid29020307"/>
  • Persistent fever<ref name="pmid29020307"/>

Follow-up blood cultures may be positive with the same pathogen in 7%<ref name="pmid27296858">{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }} </ref> to 10%<ref name="pmid15214874">{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }} </ref> to 14%<ref name="pmid29020307"/> of patients.

If repeat blood cultures are obtained in the initial 72 hours of antibiotics, a higher rate of 46% are positive<ref name="pmid11340541">{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }} </ref>.

Repeating blood cultures among patients with intravenous catheters may require special methods<ref name="pmid15767623">{{#invoke:Citation/CS1|citation |CitationClass=journal }} Review in: ACP J Club. 2005 Nov-Dec;143(3):77 </ref>.

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