The Health Protection Agency reports somewhere between 3,700 to 4,000 cases of Pseudomonas infections each year. But what exactly is a Pseudomonas infection, what are its causes, and what are its effects on a person?

The main culprit for Pseudomonas infections is the Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a rod-shaped bacterium that thrives in water, soil, plants and animals. Experts have dubbed the bacterium as an opportunistic pathogen. When a person is healthy, he can easily withstand the bacterium, but those who are immunocompromised can become critically ill.

Immunocompromised persons are people whose immune systems have become weakened due to a number of factors. Among those who are vulnerable are those who are currently ill or who have been hospitalised previously, those who have undergone invasive procedures like surgery, and those who are currently taking antibiotics as part of a treatment for another kind of infection.

Apart from regular hospital water testing, there are several strategies that have to be implemented in order to keep the bacterium at bay. This includes regular hygienic practices, aseptic procedures and thorough cleaning and sterilisation of medical equipment. Also, it is advisable for burn patients to be isolated from other patients in the hospital.

Pseudomonas aeruginosainfects various parts of the human body, making it difficult to treat. On top of that, the bacterium is resistant to quite a number of antibiotics, requires minimal food to thrive and multiply, can stick to cells, and has a protective outer coat.

The bacterium is among the leading causes of bacterial infections in the blood which is fairly common among patients with blood cancer and those who have Pseudomonas infection in other parts of their bodies. Intravenous drug users and people with artificial heart valves are at high risk for the bacterium infecting their heart valves. Intravenous drug users, diabetics and those who have undergone bone surgery are at risk of the bacterium infecting their joints and bones.

Pseudomonas aeruginosacauses meningitis and brain abscesses in patients who have undergone brain surgery or those who suffer from a brain injury. The eyes and ears are also vulnerable to Pseudomonas infection. In the ears, the bacterium can cause swimmer's ear and more serious infections which can lead to problems with hearing, paralysis of the face and even death. In the eyes, the bacterium is known to cause ulcers of the cornea which can eventually lead to destruction of the organ's tissue and loss of sight.

Patients who use catheters and other medical instruments or those who have recently went under the knife may contract urinary tract infections. The lungs are also vulnerable to the bacterium. Among the possible effects of the bacterium on the lungs are chronic lung disease and congestive heart failure.

Healthy individuals are not totally immune to the bacterium. Upon exposure to the bacterium, typically in contaminated spas, tubs and pools, healthy people can develop skin rashes or pseudomonas folliculitis which is often mistaken as chickenpox.

The bacterium is spread when contaminated water, in the form of vapour, aerosol or ice comes into contact with a medical professional attending a patient or through a medical device which may have come into contact with the contaminated water. In addition to this, the bacterium may be spread in a hospital facility when contaminated water droplets separate from the water stream and are dispersed by the air current.

+Duncan Hollis