Bacterial infections may start out simple, but can develop to cause devastating complications.
What do tuberculosis, syphilis and salmonella poisoning have in common? Apart from being serious diseases that require urgent medical attention, these conditions are all infections caused by bacteria.
We constantly encounter bacteria in our everyday lives. In fact, the number of bacteria living within the body of the average healthy adult human is estimated to outnumber human cells by 10-to-1! While many of these bacteria are harmless – or even beneficial to our health – there are some that can cause harm – and a lot of it.
When pathogenic (harmful) bacteria enter the body, the immune system usually does a good job of destroying them before they can multiply or cause infection. Even in the presence of symptoms, our bodies can usually cope with and fight off the infection. On occasion, however, the onslaught of bacteria becomes too much for the body to handle, and external help is needed. This is where antibiotics come into the picture.
From infections to complications
We have all experienced bacterial infections at one time or another, and we usually have them treated before they cause damage to our bodies. But have you ever wondered what would happen if you left these infections untreated? Read on to see how the simplest of infections can progress into something much worse.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
While any part of the urinary system – comprising of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra – can become infected, UTIs typically involve the lower portions (the bladder and urethra).
UTIs can sometime escape notice, but are otherwise accompanied by frequent urination, a burning sensation when urinating, urine that appears cloudy or discoloured, as well as pelvic pain (in women) or rectal pain (in men).
If left untreated, the discomfort of a UTI can escalate into more serious infections of the kidney, which may irreparably harm them, leading to the life-altering complications of kidney disease.
Otitis media is an infection that affects the middle ear, the air-filled space behind the eardrum that contains the tiny ear bones. This infection is normally a complication of a respiratory tract infection, and is more common in children than in adults.
Symptoms include pain in the ear, diminished hearing, sore throat and a leakage of fluid from the ears. Children may face more severe symptoms, including loss of balance, fever and irritability. If left untreated, ear infections can lead to more serious complications, eg, mastoiditis (a rare inflammation of a bone adjacent to the ear), hearing loss, perforation of the eardrum, meningitis and facial nerve paralysis.
Adults also face the risk of Ménière’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes spontaneous episodes of vertigo (a spinning sensation), along with occasional hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ear) and a feeling of pressure in the ear.
While most cases of sore throat are due to viral infections, a small portion is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes. Strep throat symptoms are typically more severe than those accompanying viral infections, and include throat pain, red and swollen tonsils sometimes marked by white patches or streaks of pus, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, fever, headache, rash and fatigue. Small children may also exhibit stomach pain and vomiting.
The bacteria in the infected throat may spread to infect the tonsils, sinuses, skin, blood or middle ear. In the worst-case scenario, strep throat can lead to inflammation of the kidneys or rheumatic fever (a serious condition where the heart, nervous system, joints and skin are affected).
Often referred to as ‘blood poisoning’, bacteraemia is a condition where harmful bacteria are present in the blood. These microbes may enter the blood through a wound or infection, or during a medical or dental procedure or injection.
Signs and symptoms of bacteraemia include a sudden, high fever, rapid heart rate, chills, nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain and a feeling of being very ill.
Bacteraemia requires prompt medical attention. It may progress to severe sepsis, a life-threatening condition where microscopic blood clots form in the blood, depriving organs of oxygen and nutrients. This may lead to organ failure, and even death.
In the Special Report this month, you’ll learn:
* A brief introduction to antibiotics and how they work
* How bacterial infections are treated
* Types of antibiotics in use today
* The discovery of penicillin and how it works as an effective antibiotic
* Why adhering to your doctor’s orders is important
* Allergic reactions to antibiotics
* How to use antibiotics wisely and safely