Learning About ESBL Infection

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What is an ESBL infection?

ESBL stands for extended spectrum beta-lactamase. It's an enzyme found in some strains of bacteria. ESBL-producing bacteria can't be killed by many of the antibiotics that doctors use to treat infections, like penicillins and some cephalosporins. This makes it harder to treat.

An infection with ESBL germs can be in any part of the body, including blood, organs, skin, and sites where surgery was done.

There are many ways ESBL germs can be spread. The most common ways are by touching a person or thing that has the bacteria on it. The infection is more likely to spread in a hospital. For some people, especially those who are weak or ill, an ESBL infection can be serious.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of an ESBL infection are similar to other infections. Which symptoms you have will depend on where the infection is. For example:

  • If the infection is in the skin, that area may be red or tender.
  • If it's in the urinary tract, you may have back pain, a burning sensation when you urinate, or a need to urinate more often than usual.
  • If it's in the lungs, you may have a cough and trouble breathing.

You may also:

  • Have diarrhea.
  • Feel weak and sick.
  • Have fever and chills.

How is an ESBL infection treated?

Your doctor will give you antibiotics to treat the infection. Take your antibiotics as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics. Taking only some of the medicine may cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop.

You may have to stay in the hospital for treatment.

How can you prevent the spread of an ESBL infection?

If you have an ESBL infection in the hospital:

  • Your doctor may want to keep you away from others to reduce the chances of spreading the bacteria. You may be in a special room, called an isolation room. Visitors may be limited to prevent ESBL germs from being carried outside your room. Children, pregnant women, people who are ill, and some others might not be allowed into the room. That's because they can be more likely to get a serious infection.
  • Everyone who comes in the room will need to wash their hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Clean hands help stop the germs from spreading.
  • Visitors and caregivers may have to use disposable gloves and a gown over their clothes. This helps prevent ESBL germs from spreading.

Practice good hygiene

  • Wash your hands often. Hand-washing is the best way to avoid spreading germs. When washing hands with soap and water:
    • Wet your hands with running water, and apply soap.
    • Rub your hands together to make a lather. Scrub well for at least 20 seconds.
    • Pay special attention to your wrists, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
    • Rinse your hands well under running water.
    • Use a clean towel to dry your hands, or air-dry your hands. You may want to use a clean towel as a barrier between the faucet and your clean hands when you turn off the water.
  • You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If you use sanitizer, rub your hands and fingers until they are dry. You don't need to use water. The alcohol quickly kills many types of germs on your hands.
  • If you're in the hospital, ask everyone to wash their hands before they come in the room.
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage. Wash your hands after you touch elastic bandages or other dressings over a wound. This can keep bacteria from spreading. Wrap bandages in a plastic bag before you throw them away. Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.
  • Do not share towels, washcloths, razors, clothing, or other items that touched your wound or bandage. Wash your sheets, towels, and clothes with warm water and detergent. Dry them in a hot dryer, if you can.
  • Keep shared areas clean by wiping down surfaces (such as counters, doorknobs, and light switches) with a disinfectant.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.