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September is Sepsis Awareness Month: Spread the Word About Sepsis to Help Save Lives

Submitted by Dawn Quaderer


Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is a life-threatening medical emergency. Sepsis happens when an infection you already have triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Infections that lead to sepsis most often start in the lung, urinary tract system, skin (ex. Diabetic foot ulcer), or gastrointestinal tract, travel through the bloodstream and without timely treatment, sepsis can rapidly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. Anyone can get sepsis but two-thirds of all cases occur in people over 60. Sepsis kills more people in the United States than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Older adults, especially those with chronic health conditions like Diabetes, Heart Disease, and various types of cancer, are more likely to succumb to sepsis. However, early recognition of sepsis symptoms can save lives and reduce the risk of long-term effects.

Anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection, including COVID-19, can lead to sepsis. In a typical year:

At least 1.7 million adults in America develop sepsis.

Nearly 270,000 Americans die as a result of sepsis.

1 in 3 patients who dies in a hospital has sepsis.

Sepsis, or the infection causing sepsis, starts outside of the hospital in nearly 87% of cases.

Is sepsis contagious? You can’t spread sepsis to other people. However, some infections CAN be contagious, increasing the risk for developing sepsis. Infections can put you or your loved one at risk for sepsis. When germs get into a person’s body, they can cause an infection. If you don’t stop that infection, it can cause sepsis.

Bacterial Sepsis Bacterial infections are the most common type of infections that lead to sepsis. Bacterial infections can develop in several ways, including from open wounds, surgical wounds, burns, and contamination of the urinary tract.

Viral Sepsis Almost any virus can cause sepsis. The number of documented sepsis cases due to viral infections is small (~1%). However, the role viral infections play in sepsis cases may be understated. Viral sepsis may be under-diagnosed if tests for viruses are not performed, and up to 42% of sepsis cases are culture-negative, suggesting a non-bacterial cause.

Sepsis and COVID-19 A common cause of sepsis is pneumonia, and is a known complication of COVID-19. Pneumonia is severe lung inflammation that occurs in response to an infection in which the air sacs fill with pus, making it difficult to breathe. The similarity between COVID-19 and sepsis is noteworthy.

Who is at risk? Anyone can become septic but some people are at higher risk for sepsis:

Adults 65 and older

People with weakened immune systems

People with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer, and kidney disease

People with recent severe illness or hospitalization

Sepsis survivors

Children younger than one year of age

IV Drug users

What are the signs & symptoms? A patient with sepsis might have one or more of the following signs or symptoms:

High heart rate or low blood pressure

Confusion or disorientation

Extreme pain or discomfort

Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold

Shortness of breath

Clammy or sweaty skin

Extreme fatigue

A medical assessment by a healthcare professional is needed to confirm sepsis.

What should I do if I suspect sepsis? Sepsis is a medical emergency. If you or your loved one has an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse, ACT FAST. Get medical care IMMEDIATELY either in-person, or at minimum, through telehealth services. Ask your healthcare professional, “Could this infection be leading to sepsis?” and if you should go to the emergency room for medical assessment. Fast recognition and treatment can increase your chances of survival.

In the 2 minutes it took you to read this, Sepsis has claimed another life, don’t let yours be the next one.


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