Klebsiella pneumoniae (K. pneumoniae) are bacteria that normally live in your intestines and feces.
These bacteria are harmless when they’re in your intestines. But if they spread to another part of your body, they can cause severe infections. The risk is higher if you’re sick.
K. pneumoniae can infect your:
The location of your infection will determine your symptoms and treatment. Generally, healthy people don’t get K. pneumoniae infections. You’re more likely to get it if you have a weak immune system due to a medical condition or long-term antibiotic use.
K. pneumoniae infections are treated 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 enter the body. This usually occurs due to person-to-person contact.
In the body, the bacteria can survive the immune system’s defenses and cause infection.
Because K. pneumoniae can infect different parts of the body, it can cause different types of infections.
Each infection has different symptoms.
K. pneumoniae often causes bacterial pneumonia, or infection of the lungs. It happens when the bacteria enter your respiratory tract.
Community-acquired pneumonia occurs if you get infected in a community setting, like a mall or subway. Hospital-acquired pneumonia occurs if you get infected at a hospital or nursing home.
Symptoms of pneumonia include:
Urinary tract infection
If K. pneumoniae gets in your urinary tract, it can cause a urinary tract infection (UTI). Your urinary tract includes your urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys.
Klebsiella UTIs occur when the bacteria enters the urinary tract. It can also happen after using a urinary catheter for a long time.
Typically, K. pneumoniae cause UTIs in older women.
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
- strong-smelling urine
- passing small amounts of urine
- pain in the back or pelvic area
- discomfort in the lower abdomen
If you have a UTI in your kidneys, you might have:
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 injury or surgery.
K. pneumoniae wound infections include:
Depending on the type of infection, you might experience:
In rare cases, K. pneumoniae can cause bacterial meningitis, or inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. It happens when bacteria infect the fluid around the 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:
If K. pneumoniae is in the blood, it can spread to the eye and cause endophthalmitis. This is an infection that causes inflammation in the white of your eye.
Symptoms may include:
Pyogenic liver abscess
Often, K. pneumoniae infects the liver. This can cause a pyogenic liver abscess, or a pus-filled lesion.
K. pneumoniae liver abscesses commonly affect people with diabetes or who have been taking antibiotics for a long time.
Common symptoms include:
If K. pneumoniae enters your blood, it can cause bacteremia, or the presence of bacteria in 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.
One study estimates 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.
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. Your prognosis is better if you’re treated early. It will also lower your risk of life-threatening complications.
You’re more likely to get K. pneumoniae if you have a weakened immune system.
Risk factors of infection include:
- increasing age
- taking antibiotics for a long time
- taking corticosteroids
- being hospitalized
- using a ventilator (breathing machine)
- using an intravenous or ureter catheter
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- chronic liver disease
- lung disease
- kidney failure
- solid-organ transplantation
Many of these conditions can suppress your immune system, especially when left untreated.
K. pneumoniae spreads through person-to-person contact. This can happen if you touch someone who’s infected.
Someone who isn’t infected can also carry the bacteria from one person to another.
Additionally, the bacteria might contaminate medical objects like:
- ureter catheters
- intravenous catheters
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. This might include:
- Physical exam. If you have a wound, a doctor will look for signs of infection. They can also examine your eye if you have eye-related symptoms.
- Fluid samples. Your doctor might take samples of blood, mucus, urine, or cerebral spinal fluid. The samples will be checked for bacteria.
- Imaging tests. If a doctor suspects pneumonia, they’ll take a chest X-ray or PET scan to examine your lungs. If your doctor thinks you have a liver abscess, they may do an ultrasound or CT scan.
If you’re using a ventilator or catheter your doctor might test these objects for K. pneumoniae.
K. pneumoniae infections are treated with antibiotics. However, the bacteria can be difficult to treat. Some strains are highly resistant to antibiotics.
If you have a drug-resistant infection, your doctor will order lab tests to determine which antibiotic will work best.
Always follow your doctor’s instructions. If you stop taking antibiotics too soon, the infection might come back.
You should see your doctor if you notice any sign of infection. If you develop a sudden fever or can’t breathe, get medical help immediately. You can book an appointment with a primary care provider in your area using our Healthline FindCare tool.
Klebsiella infections can quickly spread throughout the body, so it’s important to seek 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 spread. 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 should also wear gloves and gowns when touching other people with Klebsiella infection. They should also wash their hands after touching hospital surfaces.
If you’re at risk for infection, a doctor can explain other ways to stay safe.
Prognosis and recovery vary greatly. This depends on several factors, including your:
- 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 lung function.
Your prognosis is better if you’re treated early. It will also lower your risk of life-threatening complications.
Recovery can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
During this time, take all your antibiotics and attend your follow-up appointments.
Klebsiella pneumoniae (K. pneumoniae) are normally harmless. The bacteria live in your intestines and feces, but they can be dangerous in other parts of your body.
Klebsiella can cause severe infections in your lungs, bladder, brain, liver, eyes, blood, and wounds. Your symptoms depend on the type of infection.
The infection spreads through person-to-person contact. Your risk is higher if you’re sick. Generally, healthy people don’t get Klebsiella infections.
If you get K. pneumoniae, you’ll need antibiotics. Some strains are resistant to drugs, but your doctor can determine which antibiotic will work best. Recovery can take several months, but early treatment will improve your prognosis.