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Doctors treat a secondary infection by determining and addressing the cause while continuing to provide care for the original infection. This can require multiple medications and careful monitoring for signs of complications. There also are some steps that care providers can use to reduce the risk of a secondary infection. Patients in treatment for conditions associated with such infections should report new symptoms to a physician to determine whether evaluation and treatment are necessary.
In secondary infections, another infection develops in addition to an original medical issue. One infection sometimes weakens the immune system, or the medications used to treat it leave the patient vulnerable to infection. Patients who have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), for example, develop infections because their immune systems are not as powerful, and they cannot resist bacteria, fungi and bacteria. Likewise, a patient who has a bacterial infection in the gut might experience a secondary infection because the antibiotics used to manage the first infection stripped the gut of beneficial bacterial that normally would attack infectious organisms.
If a patient develops signs of a secondary infection, the doctor might start with a request for culture to determine what is causing the infection and to learn more about it. With this information in hand, the doctor can develop a treatment plan. The patient might need medications to manage the infection. If there are concerns about medication conflicts, the patient might change to a broad spectrum drug to combat both infections or could temporarily stop taking the original drug.
It might also be possible to manage such infections with other measures, such as giving patients probiotics to reestablish colonies of beneficial organisms. Sometimes the secondary infection will resolve on its own with monitoring, and the patient might simply need to stay hydrated and eat well to promote immune activity. In other cases, more aggressive measures might be necessary, such as surgery to remove diseased tissue or multi-drug therapy to address primary and secondary infections together.
Treatment can be complicated by underlying medical conditions, especially allergies. A patient might not be able to take the first choice of medication because of allergies or conflicts. Patients who have secondary infections should communicate clearly with their doctors to provide an opportunity to identify potential issues that might make treatment more difficult. These could include a family history of particular diseases, a known history of reacting to particular classes of medications or concerns about being able to adhere to a multi-drug regimen.