When bacteria called Klebsiella pneumoniae spread from the intestines and feces, they cause a range of infection types and tend to be antibiotic resistant.

Klebsiella pneumoniae are bacteria that normally live in your intestines and feces. Experts refer to them as Gram-negative, encapsulated, and nonmobile bacteria. They also have a high tendency to become antibiotic resistant.

These bacteria are harmless when they’re in your intestines or stool. But if they spread to another part of your body, such as your lungs, they can cause severe infections.

K. pneumoniae can cause infections such as:

The location of your infection will determine your symptoms and treatment. Generally, if you’re healthy, you won’t get a K. pneumoniae infection. You have a higher risk of developing an infection if:

  • you live in a healthcare facility
  • you have other conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), peripheral vascular disease, kidney disease, or bile disease
  • you have a catheter connected to your bladder
  • you have cancer
  • you’re a person with an alcohol use disorder

Doctors or healthcare professionals typically treat K. pneumoniae infections with antibiotics, but some strains have developed drug resistance. These infections are very difficult to treat with normal antibiotics.

A Klebsiella infection is caused by the bacteria K. pneumoniae. It happens when K. pneumoniae directly enters the body. This usually occurs due to:

  • Person-to-person contact. Someone touches a wound or other sensitive area of your body with contaminated hands
  • Hospital equipment. About 8 to 12 percent of people who develop pneumonia from these bacteria are on ventilators

Because K. pneumoniae can infect different parts of your body, it can cause different types of infections with different symptoms.


K. pneumoniae often causes bacterial pneumonia, or infection in your lungs. It happens when the bacteria enter your respiratory tract.

Community acquired pneumonia occurs if you contract it in a community setting, like a mall or subway. Hospital acquired pneumonia occurs if you contract it at a hospital or nursing home.

In Western countries, K. pneumoniae causes about 3 to 5 percent of community acquired pneumonia. It’s also responsible for 11.8 percent of hospital acquired pneumonia worldwide.

Symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • coughing
  • yellow or bloody mucus
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain


If K. pneumoniae gets in your urinary tract, it can cause a UTI. Your urinary tract includes your urethra (the tube that allows urine to pass out of your body), bladder, ureters (the tube that carries urine from your kidneys to your bladder), and kidneys.

Klebsiella UTIs occur when the bacteria enter your urinary tract. Though it can affect anyone, you have a higher chance if you:

  • have a urinary catheter in place, which is a tube placed in your body to drain and collect urine from your bladder
  • are a person with a uterus
  • are living with kidney disease

UTIs don’t always cause symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you might experience:

  • frequent urge to urinate
  • pain and burning when urinating
  • bloody or cloudy urine
  • passing small amounts of urine
  • pain in your back or pelvic area
  • discomfort in your lower abdomen
  • fever

If you have a UTI in your kidneys, you might have:

  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • pain in your upper back and side

You can experience an upper or a lower UTI. Both have similar symptoms, but upper UTIs will often entail more systemic symptoms and are typically more severe than lower UTIs.

Most people with a UTI will have symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms, you probably don’t have a UTI. You probably have an abnormal urine test with results that look like you have a UTI.

Skin or soft tissue infection

If K. pneumoniae enters through a break in your skin, it can infect your skin or soft tissue. Usually, this happens with wounds caused by surgery or injury.

K. pneumoniae wound infections include:

Depending on your type of infection, you might experience:

  • fever
  • redness
  • swelling
  • pain
  • flu-like symptoms
  • fatigue
  • wounds or ulcers, which are sores on the lining of your stomach, small intestine, or esophagus


In rare cases, K. pneumoniae can cause bacterial meningitis, or inflammation of the membranes that cover your brain and spinal cord. This happens when bacteria infect the fluid around your brain and spinal cord.

Most cases of K. pneumoniae meningitis happen in hospital settings.

Generally, meningitis causes a sudden onset of:

Other symptoms may include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • confusion
  • seizures (although rare)


If K. pneumoniae is in your blood, it can spread to your eyes and cause endophthalmitis. This is an infection that causes inflammation in the white of your eye and can lead to blindness. This type of endophthalmitis is rare in Western countries.

Symptoms may include:

Pyogenic liver abscess

In recent years, the number of people who have developed a pyogenic liver abscess due to K. pneumoniae in the United States has increased.

K. pneumoniae liver abscesses commonly affect people with diabetes or an alcohol use disorder or who have been taking antibiotics for a long time.

Common symptoms include:

Blood infection

If K. pneumoniae enters your blood, it can cause bacteremia, or the presence of bacteria in your blood.

In primary bacteremia, K. pneumoniae directly infects your bloodstream. In secondary bacteremia, K. pneumoniae spreads to your blood from an infection somewhere else in your body.

In one 2016 study, researchers estimated that about 50 percent of Klebsiella blood infections originate from Klebsiella infection in the lungs.

Symptoms usually develop suddenly. This might include:

Bacteremia needs to be treated immediately. If left untreated, bacteremia can become life threatening and turn into sepsis, which is when your body has an extreme response to an infection.

Medical emergency

Bacteremia is a medical emergency. Go to the nearest emergency room or call 911 or your local emergency services if you suspect you might have it. The outlook for people with bacteremia is better if you’re treated early. It will also lower your risk of life threatening complications.

You’re more likely to get a K. pneumoniae infection if you have a preexisting health condition.

Risk factors of infection include:

Many of these conditions can suppress your immune system, especially when left untreated.

K. pneumoniae is transmitted through person-to-person contact. This can happen if you touch someone who has an infection.

Even if you don’t develop an infection, you can still pass the bacteria on to another person.

Additionally, the bacteria might contaminate medical objects such as:

K. pneumoniae can’t spread through the air.

A doctor can do different tests to diagnose a Klebsiella infection.

The tests will depend on your symptoms. They might include:

  • Physical exams. If you have a wound, a doctor will look for signs of infection. They can also examine your eyes if you have eye-related symptoms.
  • Fluid samples. A doctor might take samples of your blood, mucus, urine, or cerebral spinal fluid. They’ll then check the samples for bacteria.
  • Imaging tests. If a doctor suspects pneumonia, they’ll likely take a chest X-ray or positron emission tomography (PET) scan to examine your lungs. If a doctor thinks you have a liver abscess, they may do an ultrasound or CT scan.

If you’re using a ventilator or catheter, a doctor might test these objects for K. pneumoniae.

Doctors often treat K. pneumoniae infections with antibiotics. But the bacteria can be difficult to treat. Some strains are highly resistant to antibiotics.

If you have a drug-resistant infection, a doctor will order lab tests to determine which antibiotic will work best for you.

Always follow a doctor’s instructions. If you stop taking antibiotics too soon, your infection might come back.

You should see a doctor if you notice any symptoms of infection. If you develop a sudden fever or can’t breathe, get medical help immediately.

Klebsiella infections can quickly spread throughout your body, so it’s important to get help.

Since K. pneumoniae spreads through person-to-person contact, the best way to prevent infection is to frequently wash your hands.

Good hand hygiene will make sure the germs don’t transmit. You should wash your hands:

  • before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • before and after preparing or eating food
  • before and after changing wound dressings
  • after using the bathroom
  • after coughing or sneezing

If you’re in the hospital, the staff may wear gloves and gowns when touching other people with Klebsiella infection. They should also wash their hands after touching hospital surfaces and keep equipment clean and sanitized.

The outlook and recovery for people with a K. pneumoniae infection vary greatly. This depends on several factors, including your:

  • age
  • health status
  • strain of K. pneumoniae
  • type of infection
  • severity of infection

In some cases, the infection can cause lasting effects. For example, Klebsiella pneumonia may permanently impair your lung function and is associated with more than a 50 percent mortality rate

The outlook for people with a K. pneumoniae infection is better if you’re treated early. It will also lower your risk of life threatening complications.

Your recovery can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

During this time, take all your antibiotics and attend your follow-up appointments.

K. pneumoniae is normally harmless. The bacteria live in your intestines and feces, but they can be dangerous when they enter other parts of your body.

Klebsiella can cause severe infections in your lungs, bladder, brain, liver, eyes, blood, and wounds. Your symptoms depend on your type of infection.

The infection is transmitted through person-to-person contact. Your risk is higher if you have a preexisting condition. Generally, you won’t get a Klebsiella infection if you’re healthy.

If you get K. pneumoniae, you’ll need antibiotics. Some strains are resistant to drugs, but a doctor can determine which antibiotic will work best for you. Recovery can take several months, but early treatment will improve the outlook for people with a K. pneumoniae infection.