In humans, S. marcescens can cause an opportunistic infection in several sites, including the urinary tract, respiratory tract, wounds, and the eye, where it may cause conjunctivitis, keratitis, endophthalmitis, and tear duct infections. It is also a rare cause of endocarditis and osteomyelitis (particularly in people who use intravenous drugs recreationally), pneumonia, and meningitis. Most S. marcescens strains are resistant to several antibiotics because of the presence of R-factors, which are a type of plasmid that carry one or more genes that encode resistance; all are considered intrinsically resistant to ampicillin, macrolides, and first-generation cephalosporins (such as cephalexin).
In elkhorn coral, S. marcescens is the cause of the disease known as white pox disease. In silkworms, it can also cause a lethal disease, especially in association with other pathogens.
In research laboratories employing Drosophila fruit flies, infection of them with S. marcescens is common. It manifests as a pink discoloration or plaque in or on larvae, pupae, or the usually starch and sugar-based food (especially when improperly prepared).
A rare clinical form of gastroenteritis occurring in early infancy caused by infection with S. marcescens. The red color of the diaper can be mistaken for hematuria (blood in the urine), which may cause unnecessary investigations by the physicians.
S. marcescens causes cucurbit yellow vine disease, leading to sometimes serious losses in melon fields.
Professor Jim Burritt and his students at the University of Wisconsin-Stout have discovered a new strain of S. marcescens in bee blood (haemolymph) from hives decimated by winterkill. His research findings have been published and the new strain was named sicaria, which means assassin in Latin. The professor states that S. marcescens sicaria "may contribute to the wintertime failure of honey bee colonies".
S. marcescens was discovered in 1819 by Venetian pharmacist Bartolomeo Bizio, as the cause of an episode of blood-red discoloration of polenta in the city of Padua. Bizio named the organism four years later in honor of Serafino Serrati, a physicist who developed an early steamboat; the epithet marcescens (Latin for "decaying") was chosen because of the pigment's rapid deterioration (Bizio's observations led him to believe that the organism decayed into a mucilage-like substance upon reaching maturity). Serratia was later renamed Monas prodigiosus and Bacillus prodigiosus before Bizio's original name was restored in the 1920s.