Systemic Infection

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Doctor in clinic. Cultura Science/Sigrid Gombert/Riser/Getty Images

What is a Systemic Infection?

A systemic infection earns its name by being spread throughout the systems of the body. It can be compared to an infection where the pathogen or symptoms are localized in one area. Such infections are sometimes known as local infections. Systemic infections are not necessarily more severe than local infections, They just affect a larger proportion of the body.

Not all systemic diseases are infections.

For example diabetes causes symptoms and changes throughout the body. It is an autoimmune disorder that is not caused by an infection. Cardiovascular disease is also a systemic disease. Many types of cardiovascular disease are related to behavioral factors, genetics, and the natural processes of aging. Cardiovascular disease is not usually caused by infections, although it can be

Often Confused With: Septicemia. Septicemia is not the same thing as systemic infection. That term refers to the presence of bacteria in the circulating blood. It can also refer to the presence of bacterial toxins in blood. However, the circulatory system is just one system of the body. A blood infection is not necessarily affecting multiple systems. 

What STDs Are Always Systemic Infections? Which STDs Can Be?

Several STDs are either always systemic infections or can become systemic infection. HIV, for example, is a disease of the whole body.

The virus attacks the immune system. If untreated, it can lead to immunodeficiency. Fortunately, highly effective treatments are now available. They can both keep the virus in check and reduce transmission of HIV to others. 

Gonorrhea on the other hand, is usually a local bacterial infection. However, it can become disseminated under certain circumstances.

When it does become a systemic infection it causes different symptoms than localized gonorrhea. For example, it can cause a type of infectious arthritis. 

Chlamydia may seem like an obvious candidate to cause systemic infections. It can ascend to the uterus. It affects a variety of sites, including the eyes and the rectum. However, the specific type of chlamydia that causes genital infections is not generally thought to cause systemic infections. Other chlamydia types, however, may do so. For example, the systemic disease lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) is caused by a type of chlamydia. Despite this, LGV infections behave more like syphilis than chlamydia.

Syphilis moves through various stages. Early syphilis starts out looking like a local infection. However, syphilis is fundamentally a systemic infection. That's particularly true for chronic syphilis. If left untreated, it will eventually affect numerous systems in the body.For example, latent syphilis can eventually lead to neurological problems.

Systemic syphilis infections can even lead to death. 

Sources:

Bardin T. Gonococcal arthritis. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2003 Apr;17(2):201-8.

Cohen SE, Klausner JD, Engelman J, Philip S. Syphilis in the modern era: an update for physicians. Infect Dis Clin North Am. 2013 Dec;27(4):705-22. doi: 10.1016/j.idc.2013.08.005.

Dal Conte I, Mistrangelo M, Cariti C, Chiriotto M, Lucchini A, Vigna M, Morino M, Di Perri G. Lymphogranuloma venereum: an old, forgotten re-emerging systemic disease. Panminerva Med. 2014 Mar;56(1):73-83.

McLean CA, Stoner BP, Workowski KA. "Treatment of lymphogranuloma venereum." Clin Infect Dis. 2007 Apr 1;44 Suppl 3:S147-52.

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