Bacterial infection is strongly associated with gastrointestinal bleeding in cirrhotic patients and seems to be related with the failure to control bleeding. The aims of this study were to assess the influence of infections on the failure to control bleeding and death in cirrhotic patients without antibiotic prophylaxis. Ninety-one consecutive bleeding cirrhotic patients were analyzed. Bleeding was managed using somatostatin with sclerotherapy for active bleeding. Screening for bacterial infection (analysis and culture of blood, urine, ascitic and other fluids, together with chest radiography) was made at time 0 and when clinical signs suggested infection. The cause of bleeding was variceal in 72 (79%) patients. Failure to control bleeding occurred in 24 (26%) patients, and 10 (11%) of the patients died. Compared with the group without infection, failure to control bleeding (65% vs 15%; P < 0.001) and mortality (40% vs 3%; P < 0.001), were observed more frequently in patients with infection. Multivariate analysis showed that bacterial infection (OR = 9.7; P < 0.001) and the presence of shock (OR = 3.5; P < 0.05) were independently associated with failure to control bleeding. Bacterial infection (OR = 12.6; P < 0.01), encephalopathy (OR = 6.9; P < 0.05), and shock (OR = 5.8; P < 0.05) were identified as predictive of death. In conclusion, in bleeding cirrhotic patients bacterial infection is associated with failure to control bleeding as well as mortality.