Bacteria can be classified by their need and tolerance for O2:
Obligate anaerobes replicate at sites with low oxidation-reduction potential (eg, necrotic, devascularized tissue). Obligate anaerobes have been categorized based on their O2 tolerance: strict anaerobes grow in ≤ 0.4% O2; moderate anaerobes grow in 0.8 to 2.5% O2; and aerotolerant anaerobes grow in ≥ 2.5% O2. The obligate anaerobes that commonly cause infection can tolerate atmospheric O2 for at least 8 h and frequently for up to 72 h.
Obligate anaerobes are major components of the normal microflora on mucous membranes, especially of the mouth, lower GI tract, and vagina; these anaerobes cause disease when normal mucosal barriers break down.
Gram-negative anaerobes and some of the infections they cause include
Gram-positive anaerobes and some of the infections they cause include
Anaerobic infections are typically suppurative, causing abscess formation and tissue necrosis (often the result of thrombophlebitis, gas formation, or both). Many anaerobes produce tissue-destructive enzymes as well as some of the most potent paralytic toxins known.
Clues to anaerobic infection include
Specimens for anaerobic culture should be obtained by aspiration or biopsy from normally sterile sites. Delivery to the laboratory should be prompt, and transport devices should provide an O2-free atmosphere of carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and nitrogen. Swabs are best transported in an anaerobically sterilized, semisolid medium such as Cary-Blair transport medium.
Last full review/revision August 2009 by Joseph R. Lentino, MD, PhD
Content last modified February 2012