What Are the Signs of a Bacterial Infection?

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  • Written By: Henry Gaudet
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 25 March 2014
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The signs of a bacterial infection vary depending on the bacteria and the location of the infection, but there are some generic symptoms. Heat, pain and swelling are among the most common symptoms of a bacterial infection. Symptoms such as stiffness, dehydration, stomach complaints and fatigue might also be present, depending on the nature of the infection.

The human body is host to millions of bacteria. Most of these are completely harmless and might, in fact, contribute to good health. Some bacteria can cause problems when they are allowed to grow, however. These harmful bacteria or pathogens are responsible for causing bacterial infections.

These bacteria don’t simply attack at random. They require a route of entry that allows them to bypass the body’s natural defenses. Skin provides excellent protection from bacterial infection, but open cuts or wounds allow bacteria to pass unhindered. Bacteria also might enter through moist membranes in the mouth, nose, eyes, genitalia or anus. Infections commonly appear at or near these entry sites.

Inflammation typically is one of the first signs of a bacterial infection. The infected area becomes red and swollen. Localized pain or tenderness is common and indicates that the infection most likely was caused by bacteria rather than some other source, such as a virus.


Bacterial infections are not identical. Depending on the type of bacteria and severity of the infection, other signs of a bacterial infection might be observed. In addition to signs of inflammation, the patient might experience symptoms such as a headache, fever and fatigue. The person might become dehydrated or might notice aches or stiffness in joints and muscles.

Location also will affect the signs of a bacteria infection that can be observed. For instance, an infection of the respiratory tract will often be accompanied by thick, opaque mucus. Upper respiratory infections affecting the sinus cavities and the ear canals might be accompanied by headache. Throat and chest infections typically cause a persistent cough that is also likely to bring up thick mucus.

Some infections are more serious than others. Most will make the patient feel miserable for a short time and might require a prescription antibiotic, but some represent a serious health risk. Meningitis, an infection of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord and the brain, is one example. Neck stiffness, headache, unusually high or low temperature, rash and tiredness are typical symptoms of meningitis. When symptoms such as these or any severe signs of a bacterial infection are present, consultation with a medical professional is recommended.

Left unchecked, even minor infections might become serious. When allowed to advance, infection can spread throughout the body, affecting internal organs, a condition that is known as sepsis. The patient might experience fever, or the temperature might dip. Other symptoms include violent shivering, aches and pains, low blood pressure, confusion and diarrhea. Hospitalization typically is necessary to treat sepsis.


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