What are the organ-specific causes of bacterial sepsis?

Updated: Feb 05, 2019
  • Author: Amber Mahmood Bokhari, MBBS; Chief Editor: Michael Stuart Bronze, MD  more...
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The etiology of sepsis is diverse, and clinical clues to various organ systems aid in appropriate workup and diagnosis. It is also pertinent to be able to distinguish between the infectious and noninfectious causes of fever in a septic patient. The following are organ system–specific etiologies of possible sepsis:

  • Skin/soft tissue: Necrotizing fasciitis, cellulitis, myonecrosis, or gas gangrene, among others, with erythema, edema, lymphangitis and positive skin biopsy result
  • Wound infection: Inflammation, edema, erythema, discharge of pus, with positive Gram stain and culture results from incision and drainage or deep cultures
  • Upper respiratory tract: Pharyngitis, tonsillitis, or sinusitis, among others, with inflammation, exudate with or without swelling, and lymphadenopathy or positive throat swab culture or rapid test result
  • Lower respiratory tract: Pneumonia, empyema, or lung abscess, among others, with productive cough, pleuritic chest pain, consolidation on auscultation, positive sputum culture result, positive blood culture result, rapid viral testing, urinary antigen testing (eg, Pneumococcus, Legionella), quantitative culture of protected brush, or bronchoalveolar lavage
  • Central nervous system: Meningitis, brain abscess, or infected hematoma, among others, with signs of meningeal irritation, elevated CSF cell count and protein level, reduced CSF glucose level, positive Gram stain and culture results
  • Cerebrovascular system: Myocardial infarction, acute valvular dysfunction, myocarditis, pericardialis, ruptured aortic aneurysm, aortitis, or septic emboli, among others, with elevated levels of cardiac enzymes, and imaging (ultrasonography, CT scanning, or MRI) of the chest, abdomen, and/or pelvis showing vascular involvement
  • Vascular catheters (arterial, venous): Redness or drainage at insertion site, positive blood culture result (from the catheter and a peripheral site), and catheter tip culture after sterile removal
  • Gastrointestinal: Colitis, infectious diarrhea, ischemic bowel, or appendicitis, among others, with abdominal pain, distension, diarrhea, and vomiting; positive stool culture result and testing for toxigenic Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, or Clostridium difficile
  • Intra-abdominal: Renal abscess, pyelonephritis, pancreatitis, cholecystitis, liver abscess, intra-abdominal abscesses, or perforation, compromise, or rupture of an intra-abdominal or pelvic structure, among others, with specific symptoms and signs; [4] aerobic and anaerobic culture of drained abdominal fluid collections; peritoneal dialysis (PD) catheter infection with cloudy PD fluid, abdominal pain, deranged cell count, and positive PD fluid culture result
  • Urinary tract: Cystitis, pyelonephritis, urethritis, or renal abscess, among others, with urgency, dysuria, pelvic, suprapubic, or back pain; urine microscopy showing pyuria or a positive urine culture result; urosepsis has also been reported after prostatic biopsy [10]
  • Female genital tract: Pelvic inflammatory disease, cervicitis, or salpingitis, among others, with lower abdominal pain, vaginal discharge, positive results on endocervical and high vaginal swabs
  • Male genital tract: Orchitis, epididymitis, acute prostatitis, balanitis, or prostatic abscess, among others, with dysuria, frequency, urgency, urge incontinence, cloudy urine, prostatic tenderness, and positive urine Gram stain and culture results
  • Bone: Osteomyelitis presenting with pain, warmth, swelling, decreased range of motion, positive blood and/or bone culture results, and MRI changes
  • Joint: Septic arthritis presenting with pain, warmth, swelling, decreased range of motion, positive arthrocentesis with cell counts, and positive Gram stain and culture results
  • Nonspecific systemic febrile syndromes: Babesiosis, rickettsial diseases, lyme disease, typhus, or typhoid fever, among others, with multiorgan involvement, specific travel and epidemiological exposures, and associated rashes or other symptoms

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