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What is Klebsiella Bacteria?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Klebsiella bacteria are a very common genus of bacteria that thrive in humans. Normally, there are large concentrations of this bacteria living in the colon that are beneficial to normal digestion. The bacteria can cause serious health problems, however, if certain strains invade other organs and organ systems outside of the digestive tract. Infections are most likely to occur in a hospital or another setting where large groups of people are in close contact. Treating a Klebsiella bacteria infection immediately with high-strength antibiotics is essential to prevent life-threatening complications and reduce the risk of an epidemic.

Several different species of Klebsiella bacteria can cause infection in humans, but the most common pathogen is K. pneumoniae, which targets the lungs and airways. K. pneumoniae can enter the respiratory tract if it is present on an unsterilized breathing tube, a physician's hands or gloves, or on unwashed bedding. Bacteria quickly attach to the lining of air sacs in the lungs and induce severe inflammation, swelling, and eventual tissue death. An infected person may have chest tightness, shortness of breath, a bloody wet cough, and extreme fatigue.

Other common strains of this bacteria, including K. oxytoca, can impair the lungs as well. Infections may also develop at the site of surgical skin wounds or in the urinary tract. Skin infections typically become red, itchy, tender, and swollen within a few hours. Urinary tract problems include blood in the urine stream and frequent and painful urination. Rarely, bacteria that reach the bloodstream can enter circulation and cause potentially life-threatening heart, kidney, and brain complications.

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential in preventing fatal outcomes from Klebsiella bacteria infections. A doctor can collect samples of sputum, blood, and urine for laboratory testing. Lab personnel culture samples to confirm the presence of Klebsiella and identify the particular strain involved. Once a diagnosis is made, a patient is quarantined and given intravenous antibiotic treatment. Bacteria can be highly resistant to common antibiotics, including penicillin, so two or more drugs are usually given at a time until doctors find an effective combination.

Most people who receive immediate treatment are able to make full recoveries in one to four weeks. Additional treatments, such as oxygen therapy and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, are provided in emergency situations to stabilize breathing. Individuals are typically kept in quarantined rooms until they are entirely symptom-free; they are then normally sent home with a supply of oral antibiotics. Follow-up visits are important to confirm that bacteria have been fully eradicated.

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Discussion Comments
By anon996044 — On Jun 30, 2016

My husband had lower back surgery. In the staples, small bubbles started to come up one morning, so I took him to the surgeon and asked if this was supposed to happen? He said rush him to the ER so I did. By then, it was bubbling infection out of the staple holes. We almost lost him.

The 72- hour cultures showed he was bad off. The infectious disease doctor placed him on antibiotics. He got better and was in the hospital 41 days. Now 7 months later, his heart is not doing good. I wonder if that could be from the infection.

By anon989170 — On Feb 22, 2015

I had a full series of breathing tests at a pulmonologist's office that involved several types of tubing. I remember when I was led into the room for the tests, I did not witness any sterilization or preparation of the the equipment. The tubing had intricate parts, and one of them sprayed a powder or chemical into my lungs when I inhaled and then tested by ability to fully expel whatever it was. Within 3 days of that test, I began experiencing respiratory symptoms: post nasal drip; "frog" in my throat; sinus pressure. That quickly progressed to a cough in which I could feel the phlegm in my chest, but it would not come up, no matter what I did. At one point, I was taking Symbicort, rescue inhaler and doing a nebulizer, plus taking over the counter guaifenesin syrup. I would have coughing bouts that caused me to lose control of my bowels and urine several times per day.

The shortness of breath was so severe, that at one point, I had the thought that I had waited too long to call 911 and was going to pass out or die alone. I had fever on and off, along with aching in my joints and muscles and debilitating shortness of breath in which just bending down to pick something up felt like overexertion. Getting from my car to my home and office doors proved to be almost too much to bear. During this time, I saw my doctor twice. The first time, he told me to keep doing the over the counter, symbicort and rescue inhaler. He added the nebulizer with Albuterol. No blood work, but did send me for X rays on my second visit. He also did an in office breathing treatment. The X ray came back and interpreted as not pneumonia, but instead "bronchitis." I took the antibiotic Levaquin for 10 days, and thought I noticed a slight improvement after three days, but it continued to progress.

A series of breathing tests came back as normal (that was before the onset of the current, acute symptoms). I had another close call with coughing and wheezing, dizziness from lack of oxygen. I called my MD after hours asking if he thought I needed prescription strength cough medicine. He said no, and suggested I get another x ray, but it was Saturday afternoon. He suggested the ER. I declined due to high cost for basic x ray and care. I chose an urgent care center near my home. The doctor there assessed me and gave me a lengthy in-office breathing treatment with combination of two chemicals. She gave me two steroid injections, one with combination.

My blood work revealed elevated white cell count, so the x-ray was repeated and ruled out pneumonia in favor of bronchitis unspecified. I was given an oral steroid and asked to follow up with that office or my regular MD within two or three days. I am still sick with a cough, fatigued with general malaise, low grade fever on and off, minor appetite fluctuations with slight decrease in appetite. I gave my sputum to my doctor at the second visit, but I think he threw it away. It would change colors from green, to yellow, to black. It has impacted my ability to work, although I work from home and have managed to continue to do so for the most part.

I called the pulmonologist when I didn't hear back about my tests, and asked him about the possibility that I got an infection from the breathing tubes/tests. The person answering told me it was possible, but not likely, that they clean the equipment regularly. Then I ran across the articles about CGE. I just happen to work in health care.

I really believe that I may have CGE. My sputum is green again and I feel a sinus infection progressing. I forgot to mention that my sinuses have been bleeding a little but. Furthermore, I associate this infection with testing from those breathing tests/equipment. I am now thinking about taking more sputum to my MD, informing him about CGE and requesting a culture. I'll bet the same strain of bacteria is in the breathing tube apparatuses, which would pinpoint the cause. In any case, I am feeling scared and down right now, and just wanted to write about it. Any comments/suggestions are appreciated.

By anon962555 — On Jul 24, 2014

I have been diagnosed with Klebsiella Oxytoca in my right breast. My doctor has put me on Levoquin. Should I be concerned or will this antibiotic take care of it?

By anon943237 — On Mar 31, 2014

I have a loved one who almost died twice and it is has taken two months to discover that she has Klebsiella. She received injections in her back and within two weeks she had developed a severe respiratory illness that acting like ARDS, COP, or pneumonia. However cultures came back negative and doctors said it was inflammation of the lung tissue. She was intubated for two weeks and in rehabilitation for four when a urinary tract infection made her septic and the lung issue relapsed. She is still in critical care and we don't know when she will recover.

The lesson is this: it is a dangerous and deadly illness that is hard to diagnose and very rare. If you suspect a family member has it, get them help. It just might save their lives.

By anon317185 — On Feb 01, 2013

In my head, in between hairs I'm getting pimples, from one to two a year. Initially, it started as one or two and it spread gradually. I was asked to take antibiotics for this by doctors and it will disappear when I'm taking tablets and comes back again when I stop.

Two weeks back, I did a lab test on the sample pus and found that the cause is due to Klebsiella Bacteria. It said, "Klebsiella species grown in culture (scanty growth)". Can you please advise me here how to get a permanent fix for this?

By anon295613 — On Oct 07, 2012

I had a culture taken and I was told I have got Klebsiella pneumoniae. Mine is on my face and has arisen from having a dermal filler injection done 11 months ago. The dermal filler injected was Juveni volumizer acid, and I discovered it has made many people ill and has been contaminated.

My face was always red and fiery at the injection site and became lumpy like I had granulomas. I was seeking surgery to discover I have KP on the skin on my face. I am on ciprofloxacin 500mg three times daily for three weeks.

I am so scared, as I don't read any positive things, or anything about the skin KP. It's all about people dying, etc. Please, does anyone know about skin, external KP, and any topical antibiotic that can also be applied?

By RequiredFun — On Jun 28, 2011

@Gardenias - Bacteria test cultures do typically take several days to develop, yes. However, many labs can do rush cultures that provide preliminary results based on early information. Doctors can take this information to begin treating based on the most likely cause of the infection.

I don't know about klebsiella in particular, but I would imagine that most doctors are familiar with klebsiella symptoms. That in conjunction with early test results is probably all they need to begin a treatment regimen. Then, once the cultures are confirmed, a doctor might modify the medications accordingly.

In any event, the treatment for this infection is antibiotics, which is relatively standard when infection is obvious. It sounds like the symptoms of this infection are relatively harsh and fast moving, so I can't imagine a doctor not prescribing antibiotics immediately and then adjusting the type or quantity after the cultures come back.

By Gardenias — On Jun 27, 2011

Wow...and I thought the staphylococcus bacteria was nasty! This sounds just horrid. It is amazing to me that a bacteria can live and thrive in one area of the body without causing any problems and yet wreak this kind of havoc on a person if it gets into other parts of the body.

Nature, science, and biology is truly an amazing subject to think on, particularly with regard to just how delicate a healthy environmental balance is. I do have one question, however. Cultures typically take several days to develop, right? So what are a doctor and patient supposed to do while waiting on the results of the test?

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