What Is a Pseudomonas Infection?

Pseudomonas is a common bacteria found all over the world in soil, water, and plants. Some healthy people even have strains of it growing on their skin in moist parts of their body, like their armpits or genital area.

If you’re in good health, you could come into contact with pseudomonas and not get sick. Other people only get a mild skin rash or an ear or eye infection. But if you’re sick or your immune system is already weakened, pseudomonas can cause a severe infection. In some cases, it can be life-threatening.

Who’s at Risk?

You can get pseudomonas many different ways. It can grow on fruits and vegetables, so you could get sick from eating contaminated food. It also thrives in moist areas like pools, hot tubs, bathrooms, kitchens, and sinks.

The most severe infections occur in hospitals. Pseudomonas can easily grow in humidifiers and types of medical equipment -- catheters, for instance -- that aren’t properly cleaned. If health care workers don’t wash their hands well, they can also transfer the bacteria from an infected patient to you.

Your risk of pseudomonas infection also goes up if you:

What Are the Symptoms?

It depends on where the infection is. Pseudomonas can infect any part of your body, such as your blood, lungs, stomach, urinary tract, or tendons. Pressure sores, wounds, and burns can also become infected.

Places where infection occurs -- and their signs -- may include:

Fever is also often a sign of a severe pseudomonas infection.

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How Is It Diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects pseudomonas, he’ll take a sample of your blood or another body fluid and send it to a lab to be tested. The results may also help him decide which types of antibiotics will work best to cure the infection.

What’s the Treatment?

If you have a mild form of pseudomonas, your doctor can prescribe a course of antibiotics. Depending on where your infection is, this medicine could be in the form of a cream, eye drops or ear drops, or pills you take by mouth.

A severe infection may require weeks of antibiotics that you’ll be given through an IV. Every pseudomonas bacteria is slightly different, and strains are constantly changing, so these types of infections can be hard to treat. Many times, you may need to take more than one kind of antibiotic.

Can I Prevent a Pseudomonas Infection?

You can lower your risk of getting sick by trying to avoid coming into contact with this type of bacteria. Try these simple tips to keep these nasty germs at bay:

  • Wash your hands often. This is the best way to avoid getting pseudomonas. If you’re in the hospital, make sure that doctors and nurses always clean their hands before touching you, too.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables before eating. Even salad greens should be given a good wash.
  • Clean your water bottles. Sterilize with boiling water between each use.
  • Avoid unclean pools and hot tubs. Pseudomonas will thrive in them unless they’re cleaned often and the chlorine and pH are well-controlled.
  • Ask questions about your medical care. Talk to your doctor if you have worries about getting infected. Ask about medical equipment you’re using -- whether it's necessary and how often it’s cleaned.
  • Take care of your health. If your doctor has prescribed medicine to manage a health condition, take it exactly as prescribed. Don’t skip a dose. After surgery, be on the lookout for signs of infection. If you run a fever, have pain or see redness or discharge at your surgery site, call your doctor right away.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 12, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Pseudomonas Aeruginosa in Healthcare Settings,” “Patient Safety: What You Can Do to be a Safe Patient.”

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: “Pseudomonas.”

Action Medical Research for Children: “Secrets of a Superbug: What Makes Pseudomonas Bacteria So Deadly?”

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