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.