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What is bacteremia?

When bacteria are growing in your child's bloodstream, the condition is called bacteremia. Bacteremia causes a fever but no other specific symptoms. This illness usually occurs in children less than 3 years old. It is most common in babies.

How is it diagnosed?

The diagnosis of bacteremia is made from a blood test. This test requires 24 to 48 hours for the results to come back. For this reason, your child will be given a diagnosis of "rule-out," or "suspected," bacteremia. A more specific diagnosis cannot be made until the test results are back.

If your child is not seriously ill, he or she will be sent home. Your child will be treated and possibly prescribed medicine before going home. Children who appear to be seriously ill will need to stay in the hospital for close observation and treatment.

How can I take care of my child?

  • Antibiotics

    Bacterial infections can be treated effectively with antibiotics. All children suspected of having bacteremia are treated with antibiotics.

    Your child will receive a shot or intravenous (IV) dose of an antibiotic called ceftriaxone.

    Your child also needs the following oral antibiotic:

    __________________________. Give ________ every ____

    hours for ____ days.

  • Fluids

    Fever increases your child's fluid needs. Encourage your child to drink lots of fluids, even though he or she may not want to drink because of feeling ill.

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen

    For fever over 102F (38.5C), give acetaminophen (Tylenol) every 4 hours or ibuprofen (Advil) every 6 to 8 hours.

Does my child need to be checked again?

Your child should improve (have less fever and be more active) within 24 to 48 hours. Children who go home with a diagnosis of "rule-out" or "suspected" bacteremia require a follow-up appointment or phone call with a doctor within 24 hours. Your child may need to be seen again for another exam, to have the blood test results checked, and possibly to receive further antibiotic treatment.

When should I call my child's health care provider?


  • Your child starts to act very sick or is difficult to wake up.
  • Your child develops a stiff neck or swollen joints (these are serious complications of bacteremia).
  • Your child is unable to drink or keep down fluids.
  • Your child develops a rash or trouble breathing.
  • Your child has constant, inconsolable crying.

Call during office hours if:

  • Your child's fever lasts longer than 48 hours after having the first dose of antibiotics.
  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by the Section of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, The Children's Hospital, Denver.
Published by McKesson Provider Technologies.
Last modified: 2006-03-02
Last reviewed: 2006-10-17
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved.
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