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What is a Klebsiella Infection?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 05 November 2016
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Klebsiella infection is a bacterial infection with members of the Klebsiella genus, a group of gram-negative bacteria found widely distributed throughout the world. Many healthy individuals carry members of this genus in their intestinal tracts and on the skin, but in people who are immunocompromised, the bacteria can post a health risk. Pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and an infection of the respiratory tract known as rhinoscleroma can all be associated with Klebsiella infection.

Most commonly, people develop what is known as Klebsiella pneumonia by aspirating bacteria into the lungs. This is usually seen in older patients with underlying conditions like alcoholism. Commonly, patients are in the hospital for unrelated reasons and they develop Klebsiella infection as a result of their compromised immune systems. Symptoms can include a very high fever, productive cough, fatigue, chills, and body aches and pains.

People can also develop infections when these bacteria enter the urinary tract, commonly in association with urinary catheterization. Klebsiella infections of this nature can occur in hospitals and nursing homes, where people may need to be catheterized for a variety of reasons. Additionally, the bacteria can colonize the nose and upper respiratory tract, leading to rhinoscleroma, a potentially disfiguring condition.

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Treatment for Klebsiella infection involves administering aggressive antibiotics to kill the bacteria while providing supportive care. Some strains are resistant to antibiotics and care must be taken when selecting a medication. A doctor may request a culture to find out which species is responsible and to determine the level of antibiotic resistance. Patients with Klebsiella pneumonia may need to be put on a respirator if they have difficulty breathing as a result of the infection in the lungs. Other supportive care can include providing patients with fluids to keep the electrolytes in balance and providing patients with treatment for high fevers, as well as aches and pains.

People can reduce their chances of developing a Klebsiella infection by washing their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before interacting with people who are hospitalized with a severe illness. Hospitals work to prevent infections by maintaining clean conditions, using sterile instruments, and washing between patients so organisms cannot be passed through a hospital ward. These basic measures will limit opportunities for infectious bacteria to reach patients who are unable to fight them off due to underlying disease. Visitors to hospitals should follow directions from doctors and nurses to make sure they are observing infection prevention protocols.

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