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What is Klebsiella Pneumonia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 July 2014
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Klebsiella pneumonia is a type of bacterial pneumonia caused by infection with the Klebsiella pneumoniae bacterium, a gram-negative bacteria which is typically carried in fecal material and ingested through accidental aspiration or exposure to contaminated medical instruments. This bacterial infection is usually opportunistic, meaning that it appears in patients who are already battling an existing medical problem or infection, and it can be very dangerous for some patients.

When someone develops klebsiella pneumonia, he or she experiences flu-like symptoms including aching, chills, and fever. Infected patients also develop a cough, producing a distinctive jelly-like red sputum which is indicative of klebsiella infection. The bacteria can become quite aggressive, causing the lungs to develop abscesses of pus, and the lungs may also become filled with fluid as a result of infection. The patient usually experiences significant difficulty breathing as the bacteria colonize the lungs.

For doctors, klebsiella pneumonia presents two challenges. The first is that the bacterium is antibiotic resistant in many cases, and it may take several courses of antibiotics to find a drug which will effectively fight the bacterium. Culturing the infection to test for antibiotic resistance can reduce time spent testing useless medications, but it can also become costly and time consuming. The second issue is that in the case of opportunistic infection, the strain on the body from the underlying medical condition and the pneumonia can be very great, and the patient may experience serious complications which could lead to death.

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The Klebsiella bacterium does not just attack the lungs. It can also cause infections in the urinary tract and in wounds, especially in hospital environments, where immunocompromised patients may be at risk of exposure to the bacteria. Klebsiella infection can also lead to bacteremia, a condition in which bacteria is present in the blood.

Diabetics, alcoholics, and immunocompromised individuals are at increased risk of developing klebsiella pneumonia. The condition may start as bronchitis or a mild respiratory infection, which is one reason why it is important to receive medical treatment for such conditions before they develop into something more serious. Because klebsiella pneumonia often presents in patients who are hospitalized, the symptoms are usually recognized early, allowing medical providers to provide a rapid intervention which may give the patient a better chance at survival. The rise of hospital-acquired infections is a serious concern worldwide, and numerous hospitals are developing new policies and techniques to combat this trend.

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Discuss this Article

anon326338
Post 13

I have a friend who contracted this after a stem cell transplant. The hospital isn't treating him very well-- for fear of transferring it to other patients. I totally understand their fear, but he contracted it from there. They need to figure out how he got it to begin with.

At one point, they were not even coming in to clean his room and have refused him physical therapy because the therapist goes from room to room. This seems to be the Frankenstein of bugs going around now.

Pinky123
Post 10

@Post 9: Please let me know what combination of antibiotic did you use? I am using Cipro and I am getting worse. I think I am dying. Please help.

anon285036
Post 9

I had Klebsiella in 2009 and nearly died from it. It started off as what seemed like a nasty flu bug and in three days I was dehydrated and burning up with fever. I finally sought medical attention and was told that if I had waited another two days they would not have been able to save me. It took four antibiotics to find one that worked and two weeks to recover in hospital.

I do believe I contracted this bacteria a year earlier after having shoulder surgery and it sat dormant in my system until I became run down. Yep, unsanitary surgical instruments. Makes you shudder when you realize you can get sick from being in the hospital! By the way: it has left me with minor permanent nerve damage after spreading to my spinal cord, but I am alive and grateful to the quick thinking doctors who didn't accept the flu as my source of infection.

strawCake
Post 8

This condition sounds like something of a double edges sword: patients get it because they're in the hospital, but doctors often catch it early, because the patient is at the hospital!

I'm pretty disturbed by the fact that you can get klebsiella pneumonia bacteremia, also. Blood infections are extremely dangerous and very hard to treat. I think someone with bacteremia has even less of a chance of making it than someone with klebsiella pneumonia!

KaBoom
Post 7
@ceilingcat - That sounds like it must be scary for your friend. She gets medicine to treat her initial condition, then ends up with other problems afterwards.

Anyway, I've had pneumonia, but not klebsiella pneumonia, just the regular kind. That was bad enough, so I can't imagine having a case of pneumonia that was so severe it could cause death.

Also, it must be scary to have an antibiotic resistant condition. Usually when you're sick the doctor can give you medicine right away, but it sounds like in this case it can take a while for them to find the right thing.

ceilingcat
Post 6

Opportunistic infections are so scary. I have a good friend who has an autoimmune disease, so she takes oral steroids. They reduce inflammation, so she ends up feeling better, but they also lower your immune system.

My friend has picked up several opportunistic infections from medical facilities over the years. I already worry about her, but now that I've read about this, I'm even more worried.

Anyway, it seems like maybe we need to alter our standards of cleanliness for hospitals in this country. I feel like I hear about superbugs in hospitals an awful lot!

honeybees
Post 5

I have had asthma for as long as I can remember so have had many episodes of finding it difficult to breathe.

One winter I came down with bronchitis which kept coming back. I would go back to the doctor and get another round of antibiotics.

After several months of this cycle, the bronchitis eventually led to pneumonia. I think the only reason I was able to stay out of the hospital was because I had been taking some form of antibiotics all along.

Even though I was familiar with having a hard time getting my breath, this pneumonia was a completely different feeling.

It was pretty scary when I was coughing so bad and wondered if I was going to be able to get another breath.

Getting the right kind of antibiotics which are going to work quickly is crucial when it comes to something as serious as this kind of infection.

bagley79
Post 4

I had never heard of the Klebsiella bacterium until my sister got a very severe urinary tract infection.

I also never realized that this type of infection could get so out of hand that someone could die from it.

My sister had been hospitalized for surgery, and was moved to a rehab place shortly thereafter. Within a few days she had a horrible cough and we knew something wasn't right.

It turns out she had this severe urinary tract infection, and we almost lost her. She was admitted back to the hospital where they started giving her massive doses of antibiotics.

I think she was in bad enough shape that they didn't have a lot of time on their hands if these antibiotics didn't work.

She probably got the infection from being in the hospital in the first place. It is a little unsettling to think she would be going back there, but this ended up being a matter of life or death for her.

SarahSon
Post 3
@myharley - Sorry to hear that happened to your grandpa. I know what you mean about avoiding germs at the hospital.

Even when I go to visit someone, I am very cautious about what I touch and immediately wash my hands thoroughly when I leave.

You would think something like pneumonia that has been around for so long would be pretty easy to treat. Whenever my husband starts showing any symptoms of pneumonia, we get him to the doctor right away.

They say if you have ever had pneumonia once, your chances of contracting it again are high. He has had this several times, and we always try to get it treated early.

Many times he has had to use more than one type of antibiotic to clear it up. It would really be scary to get this type of pneumonia that was resistant to antibiotics.

myharley
Post 2
I have only been hospitalized a few times in my life, and am always concerned about any infections I may pick up while I am there.

I don't think hospitals are known for being as sterile and clean as we hope and think they are. I may be a little bit more paranoid about this than some, as my we lost my grandpa to this very thing.

He was in the hospital for an infection and was then diagnosed with klebsiella pneumonia while he was in the hospital. Because his immune system was already compromised, and he was up in years, he was an easy target for this.

To make matters even worse, they couldn't find an antibiotic that would respond to this infection. Until this, he was in reasonably good health, and we were all very upset.

We had no idea he wouldn't make it when he was only supposed to be in there for a short time to clear up his initial infection.

anon160670
Post 1

I would like to know if klebsiella pneumonia can be dormant for years from a wound received while serving in Vietnam or any wartime service?

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