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What is septicaemia?

Septicaemia (or 'blood poisoning') is a serious blood infection caused by bacteria.  

Septicaemia is a medical emergency that can be fatal if not treated quickly. If you suspect you or someone you know has septicaemia, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

What causes septicaemia?

Septicaemia can start with any bacterial infection. That infection can be in the bladder, or in the chest, or even on the skin. But the infection gets worse and spreads through the blood. The body's immune reaction can make things worse, not better, and it can cause a sudden, untreatable drop in blood pressure called septic shock.

Septicaemia symptoms

The symptoms of septicaemia can vary. They include:

If it gets worse, symptoms can include:

Septicaemia diagnosis

The doctor will examine the person with septicaemia and organise a variety of tests on the blood and urine. A person with septicaemia would also need X-rays and perhaps other scans.

Complications of septicaemia

Bacteria in blood can infect other organs to cause inflammation of the:

  • lining of the brain (meningitis)
  • abdomen (peritonitis)
  • inner layer of the heart (endocarditis)
  • joints (septic arthritis).

Septicaemia can result in septic shock. It is a serious illness and can be fatal.

Septicaemia treatment

Immediate treatment is important.

A person with septicaemia will need to be treated in hospital. There, they will get antibiotics and intravenous fluids.

Last reviewed: September 2015

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