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Septicemia, also known as blood poisoning, is a potentially fatal blood system infection. It occurs after bacteria enter the bloodstream, usually through an open wound or on contaminated surgical equipment. A physician can diagnose the condition from its symptoms, which include labored breathing, chills, high fever and low blood pressure. Red spots, which indicate bleeding in the skin, are a prominent symptom. A urine culture, blood culture, platelet count can confirm a septicemia diagnosis. If left untreated, mental confusion, shock, coma or death can occur.

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Diagnosis

Septicemia may accompany other bacterial illnesses, such as pneumonia and meningitis. In fact, the symptoms can mimic other illnesses and result in a misdiagnosis. Even blood tests and urine cultures can contain bacteria which can indicate the presence of another illness; a doctor may attribute an increase in white blood cells to the presence of an accompanying illness. Septicemia symptoms can progress quickly, and misdiagnosis can lead to severe injury or death due to a delay in treatment.

Treatment and Prognosis

Septicemia patients usually require hospitalization because the illness is so difficult to diagnose and treat. Conventional treatment includes intravenous antibiotics, fluids to stabilize blood pressure, and plasma to treat clotting problems, but advanced infections may require surgical removal.

If an individual with pneumonia, meningitis or other bacterial infection exhibits confusion, high fever with severe chills, or red spots on the skin, septicemia may be present. A patient with these symptoms should receive immediate medical attention. The patient’s prognosis improves with prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Misdiagnosis and Malpractice

Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose septicemia may constitute malpractice. Malpractice occurs when a physician fails to treat a patient in the same way as another doctor would in a similar location and with similar resources. A physician’s failure to act properly is a breach of a doctor’s responsibility to act in the best interests of the patient.

A victim of malpractice may be entitled to compensation for lost wages, medical expenses and physical injuries. A successful malpractice case must include proof that the physician’s conduct directly caused the patient’s injury, and that the injury would not have occurred if the doctor had acted properly.