GastroIntestinal / Gastroenterology Infectious Diseases / Bacteria / Viruses

Klebsiella oxytoca infection: What you should know

Klebsiella oxytoca is a type of bacteria. A person has several naturally occurring Klebsiella bacteria in their intestinal tract, mouth, and nose.

While Klebsiella oxytoca (KO) remains inside a person’s intestines, it is considered to be healthy and normal. If it leaves the intestinal tract, however, it can cause severe infections.

Most KO infections occur in healthcare settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and intensive care units (ICUs).

In this article, we look at the causes and symptoms of KO infections, as well as how they are treated.

Symptoms

Man with Klebsiella oxytoca infection in bed with fever, chills, cough.
A Klebsiella oxytoca infection may cause symptoms similar to the flu.

The symptoms of a KO infection vary from person-to-person and depend on the location of the infection.

KO can cause different types of infection, some of which have serious side effects, including pneumonia. It can also cause urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Common symptoms of a KO infection include:

  • a fever
  • chills
  • shivers, body aches, and other flu-like symptoms
  • difficulty catching a breath or shallow breathing
  • a mucus-filled cough

Less common symptoms of a KO infection include:

  • discharge from a wound
  • severe inflammation around a wound
  • pain when passing urine (from a UTI)
  • pain in the lower abdomen
  • vomiting


Causes

KO infections can occur when a type of Klebsiella bacteria is present outside of the intestines. The infection usually occurs in healthcare settings, such as:

  • nursing homes
  • hospitals
  • intensive care units (ICUs)

Other risk factors for developing an infection include:

  • use of antibiotics over a prolonged period
  • using certain medical devices, such as a ventilator
  • having an IV catheter
  • having indwelling catheter tubes (to collect urine)
  • having diabetes
  • being alcohol dependent


Complications

Urinary catheter.
Catheters may increase the risk of a KO infection.

People who are in a good state of health before the infection should recover quickly and without any complications.

However, people with serious medical conditions or whose immune systems have already been compromised may struggle to recover.

Those with additional infections, such as a bloodstream infection, may also find it harder to eliminate a KO infection.

To treat both infections at the same time, a person will need an increased dose of antibiotics, which may cause side effects.

Long-term complications of KO infections are uncommon. However, it is possible for people with a lung infection develop lung damage if they do not receive treatment for the infection quickly.

In rare cases, a KO infection can be life-threatening if a person develops sepsis. Sepsis is when the body’s response to an infection begins to harm its organs and tissues.

Catheters are common infection sites for a KO infection. Catheters are often used in a hospital to help people who are unable to go to the bathroom.

Having a catheter increases a person’s risk of getting a UTI. Symptoms of a UTI are:

  • pain and cramping in the lower abdomen
  • pain when urinating
  • frequent urge to urinate
  • blood in the urine
  • a fever
  • chills
  • back pain


Treatment

To make a diagnosis, a doctor will take a sample of blood, urine, or mucus, or a combination of these.

These samples will be sent to a laboratory and examined under a microscope to determine whether KO is present.

If a person develops a lung infection or has pneumonia, they may require an X-ray or CT scan. These tests can help determine the severity of the infection as well as the course of treatment.

Doctors may carry out additional tests to find out where the bacteria entered the body. Doctors do this because identifying the entry point helps them spot other symptoms of infection and to help prevent the infection from spreading.

Wounds, catheters, and ventilators are all common entry points in a hospital setting.

Medications

A doctor will usually prescribe antibiotics to treat a KO infection. However, some strains resist the most common antibiotics. If this is the case, specialized lab tests may be used to help find alternative antibiotics to treat the infection.

People should take the antibiotics as instructed by the doctor and the finish the full course even if symptoms clear up beforehand. Failing to do this increases the risk of reinfection or not eliminating the initial infection.

Washing hands regularly and thoroughly is the best way to prevent the spread of germs and therefore reduce chances of infection.

If a person requires treatment in hospital for a KO infection, they should request that visitors wear gowns and gloves, ensure all medical professionals use antibacterial gel on their hands when entering the room, and wash their own hands as often as possible.

Natural treatment

Person holding hot water bottle to stomach while in pajamas under blanket.
A hot water bottle may be able to relieve some of the pain of a UTI.

KO infections need to be treated with antibiotics. Some complications of KO infections, however, may be helped with natural treatments.

Some UTIs with mild symptoms may respond to natural treatments and home remedies. A person with a UTI could try:

  • taking acetaminophen
  • placing a hot water bottle on the tummy, back, or between the thighs
  • resting
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • avoiding sex if it feels uncomfortable

Other home remedies include eating yogurt and drinking cranberry juice, but there is no scientific evidence to prove these are effective.

Getting plenty of rest, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and eating a healthful diet can also help reduce flu-like symptoms.


Is it contagious?

People can infect one another through physical contact or a contaminated environment. KO cannot spread through the air.

The risk of infection in a healthy person is low. However, people who have weaker immune systems are more vulnerable to a KO infection.

Being hospitalized also increases a person’s risk of developing a KO infection, especially if they have an open wound, are using a ventilator, or have an intravenous (IV) catheter.

Takeaway

Treatment for a KO infection is usually straightforward. However, the effectiveness of the treatment and outlook for some complications depend on the infection site and the individual’s overall health.

If the KO infection is not drug-resistant, it can be effectively treated with a course of antibiotics. Most people will recover in 2 to 4 weeks.

If the infection is drug-resistant, further tests will be necessary to find a drug that can eliminate the bacteria. People with weaker immune systems may also have a longer and more difficult recovery.

Good hygiene practices, such as regular hand-washing and staying away from people who are ill, will help to speed up recovery and reduce the chances of infection in the first place.

Taking medication according to directions and being sure to complete the whole course of the medication will also increase a person’s chance of a full recovery.

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