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What is a Secondary Infection?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A secondary infection is an infection that sets in during or immediately following treatment for another infection or disease. Such infections can vary in severity and frequency, depending on a number of factors, including the health of the patient, the cause of the initial problem, the treatment approach used, and the conditions in the facilities where the patient is treated. Sometimes, they are common enough to be readily expected, while at other times, they can be unexpected and sometimes very frustrating for medical personnel.

One of the most common reasons for a secondary infection to occur is suppression of the immune system. For example, if someone takes an antibiotic to treat an infection, a fungal infection might arise as fungus in the body take advantage of the situation, since the antibiotic kills beneficial bacteria which might normally keep it under control. An infection can also occur as a result of some treatments. Prolonged placement of intravenous lines, for instance, can sometimes lead to infection.

This type of infection is usually treated as a complication, and it is something which must be addressed, especially in a patient with a compromised immune system. HIV and AIDS patients, for instance, are very prone to secondary infections, and they can die as a result because their immune systems are not able to function. They can also be dangerous for cancer patients, people who have undergone extensive surgery, and people with other serious medical conditions.

Because these infections are a common risk, many medical providers have steps in place to identify their early symptoms, with the goal of addressing such infections quickly, before they have a chance to spread and cause problems for the patient. Fever, swelling, soreness, and discoloration of the skin are all treated very seriously, as these symptoms can indicate that an infection is moving in. In some cases, patients are even given prophylactic antibiotics to prevent the onset of infection; this practice is very common before surgery.

In some cases, a secondary infection may be caused by unclean conditions or improper care. This is especially common in poor communities, which may lack the resources necessary to keep their clinics and hospitals as clean as they need to be, especially during disease epidemics. In a more wealthy community, those that develop due to hospital error are often treated as grounds for a lawsuit, so medical personnel have another reason to prevent them in their patients.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By DylanB — On Jan 27, 2013

@JackWhack – Yes, and then the urinary tract infection could turn into a kidney infection if the person didn't get it treated soon enough. Everything in there is connected and vulnerable once one part is affected.

I tried waiting for a urinary tract infection to go away on its own once. Instead, it got worse and traveled to my kidneys.

I started having lower back pain and a fever. I even vomited once, and that's when I knew it was time to get help.

The doctor put me on strong antibiotics and told me to drink plenty of water. Cranberry juice is also good for treating this.

By JackWhack — On Jan 26, 2013

I've heard of people getting urinary tract infections while wearing a catheter to help them pass kidney stones. Having a catheter in for several days or longer gives bacteria a place to collect.

It would be awful to have just gone through the ordeal of kidney stones and have to deal with a urinary tract infection. I've had several of these infections in my life, and I know how uncomfortable they can make you.

By StarJo — On Jan 25, 2013

@wavy58 – Yes, antibiotics can easily cause a secondary yeast infection. In fact, my doctor actually was hesitant to give me antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection because she knew I was prone to yeast infections.

So, she told me that while I was on the antibiotics, I should eat a carton of yogurt a day. The active cultures in the yogurt can prevent yeast infections.

Also, I had another option. I could have taken acidophilus tablets while on antibiotics, because they contain the same beneficial bacteria as yogurt.

By wavy58 — On Jan 24, 2013

Is it true that you can get a yeast infection from taking antibiotics? I think I have a sinus infection, but I'm afraid to go to the doctor for antibiotics, because I am also prone to getting yeast infections. What should I do?

By panda2006 — On Jan 27, 2011

@watson42, that happened to my roommate in college last year. I told her not to get a flu shot, since I figured this would happen, but her mother bullied her until she did-in seriously less than 36 hours, she had come down with a swine flu secondary infection. And honestly, the flu is probably more tolerable than the swine flu- she was sick, to some extent, for nearly a month. Even after she could go back to classes, she felt like crap and was totally undermined mentally as well after being sick that long.

Seriously, people need to listen to the recommendations about vaccinations- flu shots are really not suggested, except by the places that sell them, for people who are not "high risk", a.k.a. the elderly, the very young, or people with some other illness already, for several reasons. The fact that naturally we can fight off the flu better- this girl otherwise might not have gotten sick at all- is one of them.

By watson42 — On Jan 26, 2011

Another secondary infection cause is getting a vaccination. Following a vaccination, the body needs anywhere from 24-72 hours to recover its full immunity to other possible infections. The problem here is that many vaccinations which are popular now, especially for the flu or for swine flu, are (in my opinion) often promoted as some sort of miraculous cure, when really they are only able to protect people against one kind of flu strain-usually the most common- in a world with hundreds.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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