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What is bacteremia?

When bacteria are in your child's bloodstream it is called bacteremia. Bacteremia causes a fever but usually no other specific symptoms. This illness usually occurs in children 3 months to 3 years of age.

Childhood vaccines can protect children against many bacteria that used to cause bacteremia.

How is it diagnosed?

The diagnosis of bacteremia is made from a sample of your child's blood that is sent to a special lab for testing. If bacteria are in the blood it usually takes them 24 to 48 hours to grow in the lab. For this reason, your child may be given a diagnosis of "rule-out" or "suspected" bacteremia at first. A more specific diagnosis will be made when 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.

If your child is seriously ill or if there is concern that the bacteria has spread, your child will need to stay in the hospital.

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. Antibiotics may be given by mouth, by a shot (IM or intramuscular), by vein (intravenous or IV) or by a combination of these choices. Your child's provider will choose the best medicine depending on how severe your child's illness is.

  • 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 (38.9C), give acetaminophen (Tylenol) every 4 hours or ibuprofen (Advil) every 6 to 8 hours. This will make your child more comfortable.

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 healthcare provider within 24 hours. Your child may need to be seen again for another exam, to have the blood test results checked, and possibly to have more tests or antibiotic treatment.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?


  • Your child starts to act very sick
  • Your child is hard to wake up.
  • Your child cries constantly and is hard to console.
  • Your child develops a stiff neck
  • Your child develops a rash or red or purple spots.
  • Your child gets swollen joints.
  • You child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child's fever comes back.
  • Your child vomits up the antibiotic.

Call during office hours if:

  • You have other questions or concerns.
Written by the Section of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, The Children's Hospital, Denver.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2009-11-10
Last reviewed: 2009-11-05
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.
2010 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
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