Sepsis and multiple organ failure are common after hemorrhagic shock. The goal of the current experiments was to determine whether hemorrhagic shock would promote the translocation of bacteria from the gut to visceral organs. Twenty-four hours after being subjected to sham shock, or 30, 60, or 90 minutes of shock (30 mm Hg), rats were sacrificed and their organs quantitatively cultured for translocating bacteria. There was a direct relationship between the duration of hemorrhagic shock and the 24-hour mortality rate (p = 0.02). Bacteria did not translocate from the gut in the sham-shock rats, but did translocate to the mesenteric lymph nodes, livers, and spleens of the rats subjected to hemorrhagic shock (p less than 0.01). Rats subjected to 90 minutes of shock shock exhibited a greater degree of bacterial translocation than rats receiving 30 or 60 minutes of shock (p less than 0.05). The most common translocating bacteria were Escherichia coli and Enterococcus. Hemorrhagic shock injured the gut mucosa and caused subepithelial edema and focal areas of necrosis. Thus hemorrhagic shock followed by reinfusion of shed blood disrupts the gut barrier and allows indigenous bacteria normally contained within the gut to cause systemic infections.