Be on look out of blood infections

By Harriet James
Monday, September 6th, 2021 00:00 | 5 mins read
Blood infections. Photo/Courtesy

In June this year, Mercy Wanjiru’s children got sick at school. They had just reported a week prior.

The children aged six and four had fevers, became irritable and dull, and could not keep any food down. 

“They were vomiting everything they ate,” said Mercy. “I administered infant suspension to keep their temperature down and took them to hospital.

The doctor suggested we do a blood test. And when the results came out I was told it was a blood infection.”

The doctor put them on oral antibiotics to treat the infection and minimise its effects to the body organs and a fever releaver to bring down the fever.

When she asked where they might have gotten the infection from, the doctor suggested that it might have been from school. 

“He said it’s because of the shared amenities. Unhealthy and unsanitary environment or even poor nutrition can result in a weak immune system, which in turn can lead to that kind of infection,” Mercy adds. 

Low immunity

Upon further inquiry, her doctor told her that blood infections depend on age.

If it occurs in children below three years, it occurs when they are not vaccinated or they have a low immunity system. 

“But there are many things he told me that can cause the infection, sepsis during birth, during pregnancy, urinary tract infection, pneumonia, ear infections and sometimes even due to meningitis. My children were put on Ibuprofen, Amoxillin syrup and Trimetabol syrup,” she continues.

Though its name has got nothing to do with poison, blood poisoning is a serious infection that usually occurs in the blood stream.

Blood poisoning is not a medical term, but it is used to describe septicemia, bacteremia or sepsis.

Bacteremia is the presence of bacteria in the blood, which turns into septicaemia if the bacteria releases toxins in the bloodstream. 

Sepsis is a serious complication of septicemia. It can result in blood clots and can also block oxygen from reaching vital organs and result in organ failure. 

Though there are no statistics in the country, globally, sepsis affects between 47 and 50 million people every year, and kills at least 11 million people, according to Global Sepsis Alliance.

Dr Eileen Adhiambo, medical officer at Pumwani Hospital, blood infections have become common in hospitals.

For instance during ceasarian or in new borns when the placenta is being cut from the mother. 

“It is also common after surgery patients with fractures or in diabetic patients when they have diabetic feet, which have stayed for long without proper care.

Patients undergoing dialysis have catheters and if stays for long without being removed it can cause blood infection.

Patients with deep burns that have broken the epidermal barrier, its very easy for the bacteria to get into their blood, she says. 

According to Prof Walter Mwanda, a pathologist and specialist haematologist at the Kenyatta University and an honorary lecturer Department of Haematology and Blood Transfusion of the University of Nairobi, blood infection can be caused by any type of infection whether viral, bacterial or fungal. 

“The infectious agents don’t necessarily need to be in a person’s bloodstream to bring the infection,” he says. 

People at risk

Bacterial poisoning occurs when bacteria enters the patient’s bloodstream either via daily activities such as brushing  teeth, through a wound or even a scraped knee, via an infected insect bite or even skin infection. Urinary tract or even sinus infection can also cause blood poisoning. 

“While your immune system has the ability to eliminate any small amount of bacteria, too many bacteria entering your blood stream at once can cause blood poisoning since your body can’t keep up,” Prof Mwanda notes. 

People who are more susceptible than others include those with a weakened immune system such as people living with HIV/Aids and leukemia.

It can also affects older adults, young children, people who use intravenous drugs such as heroin, those with poor dental hygiene and those working in an environment with great exposure to viruses or bacteria such as outdoors or hospitals. 

Globally, in children, blood infection is the leading cause of death and occurs when the body creates large quantities of antibodies to fight an infection in their blood stream.

It also occurs in newborns from the age of two months and children under the age of three who are not vaccinated and are susceptible to infections. This is because their immunity is fully developed at that age. 

“Babies under two months receive antibodies from the mother’s womb and are protected from infection.

As the child grows and crosses the age three mark, they are at a much lower risk to be infected,” says Dr Adhiambo. 

She adds that if left untreated, abrasions and open wounds can also cause blood infections in children because of the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, an upper respiratory tract and skin bacterium that  is capable of spreading into the main bloodstream. 

“Blood infections can also occur through pneumonia, urinary tract, ear infection and sometimes even meningitis.

In addition, pregnancy complications such as the amniotic sac rapturing just before delivery, an infection in the uterus or placenta or even an infection during labour can result in blood infections to the new born,” continues Dr Adhiambo. 

Children born and raised in an unsanitary surrounding with poor nutrition may have a weak immune system, which is also a cause of blood infection. 

Peris Nyaguthii recalls the day her son, Rayyan Barala. the eight months old was diagnosed with blood infection. He was weak and could neither feed or cry.  

“When the doctor looked at him, he told me to head straight to the lab and get the tests done.

When results came, the doctors told me he has a blood infection and I would have lost my son if I stayed an extra day without attending to him.

He also said he would administer medicine directly into his veins.Within 10 to 20 minutes he would check my son’s reaction and determine whether to admit him or not,” she narrates. 

Peris opted not to admit her son as the medicine given had considerably brought the infection in her boy under control.

In 2018, Peris was back again in the hospital and her son was diagnosed with the same condition. With infections, white blood cells increase to fight it. However for Rayyan, it was the opposite.

He had a low white blood cell count with blood infection. The doctor we mettold us we should see a blood specialist.

He will turning seven this month, but we were warned that if we stay for long without treating it, he could become anaemic,” says Peris.

Fortunately, they were able to access treatment and Rayyan is doing well.

Prof Mwanda notes that in the past, getting a blood infection diagnosis in Kenya was difficult, but now most hospitals have competency and relevant technology to diagnose the condition accurately.

The symptoms include chills, moderate or high fever, rapid breathing or weakness, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, paleness of the skin, especially the face.

Advanced symptoms include, shock, confusion, red spots that may grow larger and worse organ failure. 

Crucial steps

“Some symptoms are similar to those of flu or other diseases. But if someone has had surgery recently or recovering from a wound, it’s vital to consult a doctor immediately as this might be symptoms of blood poisoning,” warns Prof Mwanda. 

Once in the hospital, the specialists take a sample of blood to find out whether there are bacteria in the blood.

They also check the number of white blood cells in the sample. If bacteria are present, the doctor will identify the type of bacteria.

If it’s a cut or wound, the doctor might take a swab to collect bacteria and know the kind of infection.

In worse situations, treatment entails admitting the patient in the intensive care unit. They will administer antibiotics and other medicines as they closely observe your organ systems. 

“In this situation, urgent treatment is necessary as blood poisoning can quickly turn into sepsis, which can cause death or damage to vital organs.

Early diagnosis will not do any serious damage and one can be switched to oral antibiotics and recover from home,” explains Dr Adhiambo. 

One may also receive fluids and oxygen intravenously, which will assist in maintaining a healthy blood pressure and clear the blood infection.

Sepsis can also be treated with hydration or antibiotics and vasopressors to lower the blood pressure. 

When it comes to prevention Prof Mwanda recommends immediate treatment and prevention of infections. 

“It’s very crucial to ensure that any open wounds are kept from being infected with proper cleaning and bandaging.

An antibiotic will probably be prescribed by the doctor as a precautionary measure against infections,” he advises. 

To lower the risk of blood poisoning, one should get flu or pneumonia vaccines; go for checkup whenever they have flu or sinuses infection.

Also, do not ignore a tooth ache as it can result in blood poisoning or even become a bigger problem. 

Harriet James