Klebsiella oxytoca (KO) is one of several Klebsiella bacteria. These bacteria are naturally found in the intestinal tract, mouth, and nose. They’re considered healthy gut bacteria inside your intestines. Outside the gut, however, these bacteria can cause serious infections.

KO is commonly spread in healthcare environments. These environments include nursing homes and intensive care units.

KO can cause a serious infection. One type of infection causes pneumonia-like symptoms. KO can also lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs), wound infections, and more. The type of bacteria and where it infects your body determines the symptoms you experience.

The bacteria must enter your body before an infection can start. Wounds, catheters, and intravenous (IV) line sites are all common places for KO bacteria to enter your body. Once the bacteria are inside, they may develop into an infection.

The symptoms of a KO infection will depend on the bacteria and the site where it entered your body.

For example, bacteria that enters your airways may cause a lung infection. The infection may be like pneumonia. Symptoms include:

  • flu-like symptoms
  • chills
  • high fever
  • shortness of breath or shallow breathing
  • cough with mucus

Other symptoms of KO infection might include:

  • discharge from a wound
  • sudden increase in inflammation around a wound
  • pain when urinating
  • lower abdominal pain
  • chills
  • fever
  • vomiting

Each type of infection is the result of Klebsiella bacteria getting into your body. In most cases, these bacteria are picked up in healthcare-associated environments. These settings can include:

  • nursing homes
  • hospitals
  • intensive care units

To get sick from these bacteria, you must be exposed directly to the germs. You can share the bacteria through person-to-person contact. You can even pick it up from a contaminated environment. KO is not spread through the air.

KO bacteria are considered opportunistic organisms. In a healthy person, the risk for infection is quite low. In a person who has a weakened immune system, the bacteria can take hold. Over time, it may develop into an infection.

One of the primary risk factors for developing an infection is being hospitalized. Receiving treatment in a hospital or medical care facility can increase your risk for developing an infection.

Other risk factors for a KO infection include:

  • using long-term antibiotics
  • using medical devices, like a ventilator
  • having an IV catheter
  • having indwelling (urine-collecting) catheter tubes
  • having diabetes
  • having a problem with alcohol

A KO infection is diagnosed with a blood, mucus, or urine sample. Your doctor will take one or more samples and send it to a laboratory for testing. The sample will be examined under a microscope for the presence of the bacterium and cultured to see if any bacteria grow.

Some people with a KO infection will need additional tests. These tests can help doctors determine how advanced the infection is. If you’ve developed a lung infection or pneumonia, your doctor may request a chest X-ray or CT scan. Both imaging tests can evaluate the severity of the lung infection. This will help your doctor know which treatments will be most effective.

Your doctor will also likely test the possible sites where the bacterium could have entered your body. This includes any wounds, catheters, or indwelling tubes or machines. Knowing the infection site will help your doctor and your care team watch for additional signs and provide greater preventive care.

Treatment for KO is like any other infection and involves antibiotics. Some strains of KO can be antibiotic-resistant. That means the most frequently used antibiotics will not be effective against the bacteria.

In that case, your doctor will order specialized lab tests. These tests help your doctor identify what antibiotics or treatments can help destroy the bacteria and eliminate the infection.

Be sure to take the antibiotics you’re prescribed exactly as your doctor instructs. Don’t stop taking them before the entire dose is complete. If you don’t take all the medication, you run the risk of a reinfection or not eliminating the infection entirely.

Frequent hand-washing is the best way to prevent spreading the germs in your environment.

If you are in a hospital setting, you should:

  • ask any visitors who come to see you to wear gowns and gloves if you have an antibiotic-resistant strain of KO
  • wash your own hands frequently
  • keep antibacterial gel nearby and ask all medical professionals who come into the room to use it

Healthy people often recover from a KO infection quickly. People who are less healthy or have a weaker immune system may face more difficulty. For example, people who drink alcohol heavily may experience a prolonged infection.

Likewise, people who have other infections, such as a bloodstream infection, may experience lengthy infections. Both can be treated, but the heavy dose of antibiotics required to treat the infections can have serious side effects for some people.

Long-term complications are not common. Some people may experience lung damage if the infection isn’t treated quickly. In rare cases, a KO infection can be deadly.

Catheters are commonly used in a hospital or long-term care setting. Some people may not be able to make regular trips to the bathroom. Catheters are a convenient way to collect urine for easy disposal.

Having a catheter creates a site through which KO bacteria can enter the body. People who have a catheter for collecting urine have an increased risk of developing a UTI.

Symptoms of a KO UTI or kidney infection are like any other type of UTI. These include:

  • high fever
  • chills
  • back pain
  • vomiting
  • lower abdominal pain and cramping
  • painful urination
  • bloody urine

Your outlook depends greatly on your health, where the infection began, and any complicating risk factors.

Cases of KO that aren’t drug-resistant can easily be treated with antibiotics. Most people will experience a full recovery in two to four weeks.

Treatment may be difficult if the infection you have is resistant to antibiotics. Finding an antibiotic or medicine that will help eliminate the infection may take time.

Likewise, if you have a compromised immune system, treating the infection may be more difficult. You may experience greater complications, and recovery may be slower.

While you’re recovering and trying to treat the infection, be sure to practice good infection hygiene. Wash your hands regularly and take medication exactly as prescribed to have the best chance at treating the infection properly.