News and Information on Infectious Disease

Serratia Marcescens is a human pathogenic species of Serratia. It is sometimes linked to disease in humans.  The disease is commonly known as either Serratia plymuthica, Serratia liquefaciens, Serratia rubidaea, Serratia odorifera, or Serratia fonticola.

Serratia Marcescens can be deadly in humans as documented in 1996 when the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigated the deaths of infants at the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA. The Medical Center contacted the CDC when it discovered 32 infants infected with some form of the disease. Of the 32 infants infected, 2 babies died and others remained sick for an extended period of time. Infants are especially susceptible to invasive bacterial infections because their immune systems are unable to fully protect them.

The CDC determined the deadly bacteria was introduced to the neonatal intensive care unit of the medical center in 1994, probably transmitted by a healthcare worker or an infant patient.

In January of 1995 healthcare workers started carrying their own bottles of hand washing soap – individual 4 oz bottles. Many times the bottles were left near sinks, inverted so the opening was contacting the sink – like many people do with shampoo bottles. Investigators found the deadly Serratia Marcescens bacteria in cultures from 16 of the 52 soap bottles and the pathogen was discovered in cultures on 1 of the 15 sinks. The investigation uncovered that water was allowed to pool in and around the sink long enough for the bacteria to grow.

The Serratia Marcescens was allowed to survive in small pools of water at the sinks, and would have entered the soap bottles if the lids were not securely closed. The pathogen could then colonize the soap bottle. Tests of unopened soap bottles showed no sign of S. Marcescens.

Serratia Marcescens in a petri dishAnother very similar case occurred in United Arab Emirates in 2008, when 2 infants died from Serratia Marcenscens while in the Premature and Newborn Department of state-owned Al Wasl Hospital. Overcrowding and poor hospital staff training is believed to be the cause for not identifying the symptoms and treating the patients before it was too late.

The mother of one of the dead infants requested to move its twin brother to another hospital for treatment but was denied. Her story is very painful.

What is Serratia Marcescens: its discovery and history.
Weeping mother of infant killed by serratia marcenscensIn 1819, a Venetian pharmacist known as Bartolomeo Bizio, identified the bacterium and gave it the name Serratia Marcescens. Bizio dubbed it Serratia in honor of Italian physicist Serrati, the steamboat inventor, and Bizio decided on Marcescens (from the Latin word which means decaying) given that the bloody pigment was known to decay rapidly.

From 1906 up to the 1950s, doctors used Serratia Marcescens as biological marker for researching the propagation of microorganisms because the bacterium was usually considered innocuous. There are recorded incidents of the U.S. military testing Serratia Marcescens on U.S. citizens in the 1950s. After the military disclosed its testing, hospitals pointed to increased pneumonia diagnosis in the subsequent weeks and months, and some deaths occurred as a result. But after the 1960s, Serratia Marcescens was clearly identified as an harmful human pathogen and as pointed out in this article, it can be deadly.

Infant infected with Serratia MarcescensMany variations relating to Serratia marcescens are capable of generating a coloring known as prodigiosin, which varies in color from deep red to light red or pinkish, based on the age of the pathogen. It can develop in soil, water, bathroom facilities or in starchy food, where the pigmented bacterium are sometimes wrongly taken for blood spots. Several cases of infants infected with serratia marcescens were somewhat easier to diagnose due to the distinctive coloring.

Serratia Marcescens Symptoms

Here are some symptoms linked with Serratia Marcescens:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Sepsis (pus-forming bacteria in the body)
  • Infection (by pathogenic microorganisms)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shock
  • Convulsions
  • Bacteremia (bacteria in the blood)
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Empyema (collection of pus in a body cavity – especially around lungs and heart)
  • Lymphadenitis (inflammation of a lymphatic gland)
  • Endocarditis (inflammation of the endocardium – membrane around heart)
  • Meningitis Peritonitis (inflammation, pain and tenderness in the abdomen, vomiting, constipation, and moderate fever)
  • Respiratory distress
  • Death

Serratia Marcescens Treatment

When diagnosed with this bacteria, people ask “What is Serratia Marcescens” and are then relieved when it is treated with antibiotic therapy including ampicillin and macrolides. Most varieties of the bacterium are susceptible to amikacin, but there have been reports of resistance to gentamicin and tobramycin. However, we must not forget that S. Marcescens is deadly when not diagnosed and treated properly.

Comprehensive testing is required as new strains of the bacterium can be resistant to common treatment.

Home therapy may be an option when the patient is stable enough to be released from hospital.

14 Responses to What is Serratia Marcescens?

  • Judy Smith says:

    I am 64 years old and I found out in 06 when I got pneumonia and ended up in the hospital and had several including lung biopsy’s that I have Sarcoid disease. It seems like every winter or spring I end up very sick or even in the hospital with a bacterial infection. I have had pneumonia several times caused by a bacteria. It is usually caused by MRSA or Staph. This year I was blessed with an infection that started the 25th of January I ran a fever for three weeks had Bronchitis so of course coughed my head off. I was given 10 day of Levaquin at first then after a few days off of any antibiotic my family Dr. ordered a sputum which showed a growth of 1+WBC, 3+ Gram positive Cocci, Gram Negative Bacillus. or Staph and Serratia Marcescens. I went to ER before I got that sputum report because I was so sick which was no help at all the PA who saw me simply looked at a chest xray they took and never even listened to my chest. His diagnosis was Acute Bronchitis and he gave me a Z pack. The day I was there after the nurse or tech came in and hooked me up to the moniter all the alarms started going off and my vitals where plus ox 85, plus 96 and Bp 116/53. I went home and took the Z pack all the time getting worse. I finnaly got the news from my Dr. what the sputum report said and he ordered 10 days of Bactrum DS. My family Dr. sent this report to my Pulmonologist who called me and said if I wasn’t better aftera couple of days of the Bactrum DS to come back and see him. I ended up back to see him and he added to the Bactrum DS 14 more days of Levaquin and Medrol Pack and wanted me to take 14 days of Clindamyicin but I did not take it because it caused my husband to get Cdiff back in November. I finised all of that they sent off another sputum and it came back with the Staph gone but the Serratia was still there so my Pulmonologist put me on 7 days of Cipro. I took it and waited 5 days and sent off another sputum and I just got a call from my family Dr. yesterday that the Serratia is still there. I think they are thinking it is colonized. They sent me to an infectious disease docter but I really didn’t learn much from her. I am feeling much better although I still get tired really easy. If it is colonized is there any way to get rid of it and how do I find out how I got this nasty bug? I haven’t been in the hospital other than that ER and that PA never even touched me now the nurse did when she hooked me up. I am on O2 at home of the night but I change my cannula’s frequently. I do have a small humidifier in my bedroom to help with my dry eye’s but I also clean it frequently. I only clean it with vinager water until this and I have switched to bleach water. I use distilled water which I thought was good but then I read some where that Serratia was sometimes found in that. I don’t know what to do. I am worried about my family or my dog getting this from me some how and I need to reschedule a surgery to remove a deep skin cancer from my nose. This will be the third time I am having to have this done so they are planing on taking me into OR this time to do a frozen section on it and I am afraid to go back and have it redone afraid I will get this serratia in it. I would appreciate any input on all of this. All together I have had 24 days of Leaquin, a Z pack, 10 days of Bactrim DS and 7 days of Cipro plus the Medrol pack. That should be enough to kill a horse let alone a bug. Can I give this to my dog? THanks Judy

    • DeadlyMicrobes says:

      Hi Judy, It sounds like you’re in good hands with your doctors. We recommend that you also discuss postponing the skin cancer surgery and not make any rash decisions – either way.

      As for why you continue to get infected every year, I would suggest looking at environmental reasons. Clean and dry out any areas of standing water or mildew in your home or your workplace. Considering that it happens in winter or spring I would look to see if you have a humidifier on your furnace. It is common to have water run over a metal mesh which is in the warm air duct from the furnace. The mesh needs to be cleaned or replaced but they’re easy to overlook. You may also want to have a company look through your air ducts. They can do that with a scope that is run from one or two places and see all of the ducts. You may need to have them cleaned and disinfected. Find a reputable firm though – unfortunately duct cleaning is a common scam.
      Good luck and please let us know how you progress.

  • jessie says:

    I was just diagnosed having an infection due to serratia marcesen. this is the 3rd time within 1 year of getting this cough. is this catching to my family members? I hope that I am rid off it now, due to the fact that I was put on Levaquin. z pack did not work in the past, neither did prednzonolone

    • DeadlyMicrobes says:

      Hi Jessie, It’s possible that your family members could contract a serratia infection if the source is your home. You should remove any standing water – inside and out and keep clean your countertops, sinks and faucets, and toiletries like razors or shavers. There is something in your environment that is causing you to become infected.

  • Nancy says:

    I am a 62 yr old female that has been suffering from terrible abdominal bloating and gassy feeling, usually occurring mid day til evening. Trying to research and come up with answers, as doctor only want to give me pills, I have blamed it on food allergies. Eliminating/adding….etc, can’t come up with die hard answer there.
    Meanwhile, researching the pink slim that I have in my Kuerig coffee maker and in all my bathroom “wet spots”, toilet, etc, I came up with relating the stomach issue to this Serratcia. Any possibility, in your opinion?

    • DeadlyMicrobes says:

      Hi Nancy, Yes it’s certainly possible and the symptoms make sense too. Serratia is especially likely in areas where water can pool and sit for some time. It can also be difficult to kill the bacteria. Please try drying the areas where the slime is, and clean well with anti-bacterial cleaner. Be careful of using bleach in your Keurig – I’m not sure if it would affect the internals.

      Please keep us updated.

  • Vivian says:

    My white Siberian husky seems healthy but has turned pink on her belly fur , around her collar fur and other areas that got very wet and did not dry due to her double undercoat. She also smells kind of like buteric acid in some spots spots (e.g. vomit smell/ durian fruit smell/ locker room smell) despite being bathed multiple times and blow dried. The smell goes away but comes back as soon as she gets damp. I am thinking this is serratia. Is this possible? How do I get it cultured? Can I just clip some pink fur?

    • DeadlyMicrobes says:

      Hi Vivian, Your diagnosis sounds like it’s accurate but it’s always hard to tell without a sample. We’ve been putting together a bacterial home-test kit and will have a link in the next few weeks. I understand that you probably don’t want to wait that long, so you should consider taking your dog to the vet for diagnosis and testing. They can extract some tissue which will include the serratia bacteria (if present) and use that to test. Thank you for asking and please let us know the results.

  • Beth Mendez says:

    Curious what you might suggest, 86 year old femaie – recurring UTI’s – ALS Patient 8 yrs, vent 7 years was doing wonderful prior to this UTI in June. She has had numerous UTI’s over the years due to an indwelling foley. In June, first time this bacteria was identified. “s marcescens” came back in the culture report. Doc thought she had a fistula, believe that has healed up, But We have been playing roller coaster with this bacteria ever since.

    Doc has done imipenin 14 days, – off about 7 days later, clinical symptoms are back again (puss discharge around foley and not lucid. Round 2 – Did Primaxin for 2 weeks. off 7 and discharge and fever remerges. We did 7 days of Levaquin and 10 days of Xyvox most recently (ALL IV) – had the best clinical improvement with that combo. We are now finished and sure enough – 10 days out, fever has started again. Is there a way out with this bug?

    It feels like to me that we just haven’t used it long enough to really get the bug gone.

    Any thought would be wonderful.

    • DeadlyMicrobes says:

      Beth, We strongly recommend you work with your doctor and if you have reason for concern, please get a second opinion. No good doctor on the planet would talk you out of having someone else corroborate or disprove their diagnosis. And please be sure the doctor works in a system that has infectious disease experts on staff. You need an expert to follow the progression/regression of the disease and alter treatment accordingly. You cannot take a bunch of pills and be cured. These microbial diseases don’t work that way.

    • DeadlyMicrobes says:

      If you know a broth or any food contains pathogens, do not consume. In situations where you have no choice, please boil the broth for at least 4 minutes before consuming.

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