What Is Pseudomonas Aeruginosa? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Medically Reviewed

Pseudomonas is a group of bacteria that can cause various types of infections.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the most common disease-causing form of this bacteria, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Serious infections from P. aeruginosa primarily occur in healthcare settings, but people can also develop infections from hot tubs and swimming pools.

Signs and Symptoms of Pseudomonas Aeruginosa

Symptoms of P. aeruginosa vary based on the type of infection.

Infection of the lungs (pneumonia) may cause:

  • Fever and chills
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Tiredness
  • Cough, sometimes with yellow, green, or bloody mucus

Urinary tract infections can cause:

  • Strong urge to urinate frequently
  • Painful urination
  • Unpleasant odor in urine
  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Pain in the pelvic area

Wound infections can cause:

  • Inflamed wound site
  • Fluid leakage from wound

Ear infections (like swimmer’s ear) can cause:

  • Ear pain
  • Decreased hearing
  • Redness or swelling of outer ear
  • Fever

Causes and Risk Factors of Pseudomonas Aeruginosa

In healthcare settings, P. aeruginosa is spread through improper hygiene, such as from the unclean hands of healthcare workers, or via contaminated medical equipment that wasn't fully sterilized.

Common hospital-associated P. aeruginosa infections include bloodstream infections, pneumoniaurinary tract infections, and surgical wound infections.

These infections typically affect people who are ill in the hospital, particularly those with weakened immune systems from diseases or long-term treatments.

When hospitalized, you have a higher risk for a serious, life-threatening P. aeruginosa infection if you have surgical wounds or burns, or are being treated with a breathing machine, such as a mechanical ventilator, or other medical devices, such as urinary or intravenous catheters.

Exposure to contaminated water can also cause mild P. aeruginosa infections in healthy people. For instance, inadequately disinfected hot tubs and swimming pools can cause P. aeruginosa ear infections and skin rashes. They can also cause eye infections in users of contact lenses.

How Is Pseudomonas Aeruginosa Diagnosed?

To diagnose P. aeruginosa, your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask about your symptoms and medical history. Then they’ll send a sample of your blood or other bodily fluid to a lab to test for the bacteria.

A test may also be done to determine which antibiotics will be most effective, according to the Merck Manual.

Prognosis of Pseudomonas Aeruginosa

Prognosis often depends on what type of infection a person has, and how early they’re treated with antibiotics. The mortality rates for P. aeruginosa infections are estimated to range from 18 to 61 percent; more ill patients, such as those with bloodstream infections or cancers of the blood, are at higher risk of dying, per past research.

Delays in treatment are associated with marked increases in mortality, according to a 2018 article in Drugs in Context.

Duration of Pseudomonas Aeruginosa

Antibiotics are usually administered for between 7 and 14 days, and sometimes longer, depending on the type and severity of the infection.

Treatment and Medication Options for Pseudomonas Aeruginosa

Mild, water-related P. aeruginosa infections are generally treated easily with certain antibiotics.

Treating severe hospital-associated P. aeruginosa infections is becoming more difficult, however, because some bacterial strains show resistance to nearly all classes of powerful antibiotics. Treating these drug-resistant infections requires sending samples to a laboratory to test the bacteria against different antibiotics in hope of finding drugs that are effective against it.

Usually, in order to prevent resistance, a person will be given a combination of several antibiotics.

Prevention of Pseudomonas Aeruginosa

To prevent P. aeruginosa, there are several steps you can take.

  • Wash your hands often. This is the best way to prevent the spread of germs. Use soap and water and scrub for at least 20 seconds; or, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep wounds clean. If you get a cut or scrape, be sure to clean it and cover it with a bandage.
  • Avoid sharing personal items. Don’t let others use personal items like razors or towels.
  • Use antibiotics only as needed. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, take the meds as prescribed.
  • Remind others to wash their hands. If you’re in the hospital, ask visitors, doctors, and nurses to wash their hands before touching you.
  • Keep surfaces clean. Disinfect all of the surfaces you touch such as your cell phone, door knobs, and light switches.
  • Swim safely. if going into a hot tub or pool, make sure it is properly chlorinated and maintained.

Complications of Pseudomonas Aeruginosa

If a wound in the foot leads to an untreated pseudomonas infection, it could lead to infection in the bones, according to StatPearls.

Pseudomonal infections that enter the bloodstream can also lead to respiratory failure, shock, and death.

Research and Statistics: Who Has Pseudomonas Aeruginosa

Being in a healthcare setting puts you at the highest risk of P. aeruginosa. In 2017, P. aeruginosa caused approximately 32,600 infections among patients in hospitals and 2,700 deaths in the United States, according to the CDC.

Patients who are on breathing machines, catheters, and those with wounds are at especially high risk. Pseudomonas is one of the main causes of pneumonia for people on mechanical ventilators, notes the University of Michigan.

Related: 5 Steps to Help Prevent Sepsis if You Have an Infection

Related Conditions and Causes of Pseudomonas Aeruginosa

People with cystic fibrosis are highly susceptible to pseudomonal lung infections. In fact, approximately half of all people with cystic fibrosis are infected chronically with the bacteria, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Those who are immunocompromised — meaning those with weakened immune systems — are very vulnerable to P. aeruginosa. This includes people with HIV, cancer, and transplant patients, people taking drugs that suppress the immune system, and those with a disease that affects the immune system.

Resources We Love

The CDC provides detailed information on this and other healthcare-associated infections.

Additional reporting by Abbi Libers and Carlene Bauer.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking


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