What is a pseudomonas infection?
A pseudomonas infection is caused by a very common type of bacteria called Pseudomonas aeruginosa (say "soo-duh-MOH-nuss ay-roo-jee-NOH-suh").
Healthy people often carry these bacteria around without knowing it and without having any problems. Sometimes these germs cause minor problems like swimmer's ear and hot tub rash. But for people who are weak or ill, these germs can cause very serious—even deadly—infections in any part of the body.
The infections are hard to treat because the bacteria can resist many types of antibiotics, the medicines normally used to kill bacteria.
Who gets this infection?
People in the hospital may get this infection. In hospitals, the bacteria can spread through medical equipment, cleaning solutions, and other equipment. They can even spread through food. When they spread to patients who are weak because of illness, surgery, or treatment, they can cause very serious infections. For example, pseudomonas is one of the main causes of pneumonia in patients who are on breathing machines.
These bacteria like moist environments, such as hot tubs and swimming pools, where they can cause a skin rash or swimmer's ear.
People who wear contact lenses can get serious eye infections if the bacteria get into their contact lens solutions. This can happen if you aren't careful about keeping your contact lenses and equipment sterile.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms depend on where the infection is. If it's in a wound, there may be green-blue pus in or around the area. If you have swimmer's ear, your ear aches. If the infection causes pneumonia, you may get a cough. When the infections are elsewhere in the body, you may have a fever and feel tired. But all pseudomonas infections can make you very sick if they spread through the bloodstream (septicemia). A serious infection can cause symptoms of high fever, chills, confusion, and shock.
How is an infection treated?
Antibiotics are the main treatment. Usually two different kinds are used. It can be hard to find the right antibiotic, because the bacteria are resistant to many of these medicines.
In some cases, surgery is used to remove infected tissue.
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, be sure to take all the medicine even if you begin to feel better right away. If you don't take all the medicine, you may not kill all the bacteria. No matter what your treatment, it's important to call your doctor if your infection doesn't get better as expected.
How can you prevent getting or spreading this infection?
As more antibiotic-resistant bacteria develop, hospitals are taking extra care to practice infection control. This includes frequent hand-washing and isolating patients who are infected.
Here are some other steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Practice good hygiene.
- Keep your hands clean by washing them often and well. Hand-washing is the best way to avoid spreading germs. You can use soap and clean, running water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage. Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.
- Don't share personal items like towels or razors.
- Be smart about antibiotics.
- Know that antibiotics can help when an infection is caused by bacteria. But they can't cure infections caused by a virus. Always ask your doctor if antibiotics are the best treatment.
- Always take all your antibiotic medicine as prescribed. Using only part of the medicine may cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop.
- Don't save any antibiotics. And don't use ones that were prescribed for someone else.
- If you are in the hospital, remind doctors and nurses to wash their hands before they touch you.
If you have a pseudomonas infection, you can keep from spreading the bacteria.
- Cover your wound with clean, dry bandages. Follow your doctor's instructions on caring for your wound.
- Keep your hands clean. You, your family, and other people with whom you are in close contact should wash their hands often, especially after changing a bandage or touching a wound.
- Don't share towels, washcloths, razors, clothing, or other items that may have had contact with your wound or a bandage. Wash your sheets, towels, and clothes with warm water and detergent, and dry them in a hot dryer, if possible.
- Keep your environment clean by using a disinfectant to wipe all the surfaces you touch often (such as countertops, doorknobs, and light switches).
Other Works Consulted
- Brady MT (2009). Pseudomonas and related genera. In RD Feigin et al., eds., Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 6th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1651–1669. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Current as of: January 26, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine