Acinetobacter Baumannii Infection: Causes & Symptoms

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Acinetobacter baumannii is a strain of bacteria commonly found on the skin. This lesson will cover some of the causes and symptoms of an A. baumannii infection.

What Is Acinetobacter baumannii?

Janet's grandmother has been in the hospital battling a chronic lung infection for two months. She was briefly on a ventilator to help her breathe, and a few days later she developed a secondary infection, called ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Janet was confused - her grandmother is in the hospital. How is she getting more sick instead of better when they are trying to help her? The nurse explained her grandmother experienced an Acinetobacter baumannii infection, which is all too common in long-term patients. Janet had never heard of Acinetobacter baumannii so she decided to do some research.

Acinetobacter baumannii is a type of bacteria usually found in soil or water. Many healthy people have A. baumannii on their skin but never experience an infection. However, A. baumannii can get into the body through a wound or break in the skin's surface and cause problems. It is an especially common infection found in hospitals and other health care settings, and it's one of the trickiest pathogens or infectious agents modern hospitals have to deal with.

Acinetobacter baumannii as seen magnified under a microscope.

What Causes an A. baumannii Infection?

Acinetobacter baumannii bacteria can pass between people on dirty hands or through contact of a contaminated surface or object (including clothing and bedding). Once inside the body, a person with an already compromised immune system - like hospital patients - are most likely to become infected.

The most at-risk patients include people with existing conditions like diabetes, lung disease, autoimmune disorders, those who have been on long-term antibiotics use or have been in the hospital for an extended time, and those who have undergone an invasive medical procedure like a catheter or a ventilator.

Additionally, because A. baumannii infections are so common in health care settings, many of the strains have become resistant to antibiotics and are harder to kill and prevent from spreading.

Symptoms of A. Baumannii Infections

A person may be infected with A. baumannii bacteria and not experience any symptoms; however, they are still a carrier and may infect other people (particularly those with compromised immune systems).

An infected person who does experience symptoms will have different indicators based on the type of infection they experience. For example, A. baumannii can cause:

  • bacteremia (an infection of the bloodstream)
  • pneumonia (a build-up of fluids in the lungs)
  • ventilator-associated pneumonia (a type of pneumonia specific to ventilator patients, like Janet's grandmother)
  • meningitis
  • urinary tract infections
  • wound infections

A. baumannii infections most commonly cause pneumonia, but the most serious infections are usually from bacteremia.

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