What is a bacterial infection?
A bacterial infection occurs when harmful bacteria enter a person’s body or wound and multiply, causing illness, organ damage, tissue damage, or disease. Bacteria can infect any area of the body.
Sometimes bacteria that normally reside harmlessly inside our body or on our skin without causing any problems uncharacteristically grow out of control and cause an infection. This usually happens if our immune system is not strong enough to keep them in balance or some change occurs in the composition of our microflora, which favors some bacteria more than others. Some bacterial infections can be life-threatening.
What causes a bacterial infection?
Bacteria are microscopic, usually single-celled organisms that are found everywhere (such as ;inside our body, on our skin, in the air, in water, in soil, or in or on the food we eat). Although some bacteria cause disease, many perform vital functions inside our body, such as helping us to digest food, aiding in the production of vitamins, keeping our immune systems strong, and making our bodies less hospitable to other harmful pathogens. Beneficial bacteria are also found in other living organisms and in the environment.
Bacteria are usually one of three basic shapes:
- Rod-shaped (bacilli)
- Spherical (cocci)
- Helical (spirilla).
They may also be classified as gram-positive (these are bacteria that have a thick cell wall) or gram-negative (these are bacteria that lack a thick cell wall).
Bacterial infections occur when a certain strain of bacteria overcomes our immune system and multiplies out of control in a certain part of our body.
Common bacterial infections include acne, pneumonia, bronchitis, and ear infections.
What are the symptoms of a bacterial infection?
Symptoms depend on what part of the body is affected by the bacterial infection, for example:
- Bacterial skin infections: Symptoms may include a rash, pus-filled blisters, nodules, redness, swelling, or pain
- Bacterial respiratory infections: Symptoms may include a cough, congestion, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, fever, sinusitis, or a sore throat
- Gastrointestinal bacterial infections (such as from food contaminated with bacteria): Symptoms may include abdominal pain or cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever
- Sexually transmitted bacterial infections: Some are symptomless, but symptoms may include an unusual or strong smelling vaginal or penile discharge, skin changes in the genital region, pain, or infertility
- Bacterial urinary tract infection: Symptoms may include pain while urinating, increased frequency of urination or an urgent need to urinate, pain around the pubic or kidney area
- Bacterial meningitis (a bacterial infection of the outer layer of the brain): Symptoms may include a severe headache, a rash, a stiff neck, nausea, vomiting, confusion, or light sensitivity.
How are bacterial infections treated?
Treatment depends on the severity of the infection, the age of the patient, how strong their immune system is, and the presence of any coexisting medical conditions.
Treatment may include:
- Oral antibiotics
- Topical antibiotics
- Pain relievers