What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a toxic response to infection that kills more than 258,000 Americans each year - more than breast cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer combined. Sepsis is a medical emergency that requires early detection and treatment for survival.

Why should I be concerned?

Sepsis can occur to anyone at any time. Any infection can lead to your body developing sepsis. Sepsis not only kills thousands of people, it leaves many more with amputations of limbs, body organs that don't work properly, psychological distress and more.

What are the risk factors for Sepsis?

While anyone can get sepsis, some people are at higher risk. This includes the very young and the elderly, patients with certain chronic diseases, like cancer and liver disease and people taking medications that affect the infection-fighting (immune) system. Ask your doctor if you are at higher risk.

  • Any type of infection can cause sepsis. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites.
  • An infection anywhere in your body can lead to sepsis but the most common infections causing sepsis are pneumonia, urinary tract infections and infections in the belly.

Can Sepsis be treated?

Yes, sepsis can be treated but it must be suspected first. People with sepsis must receive antibiotics and intravenous fluids (administered through an IV) as quickly as possible. The antibiotics fight the infection while the fluids help to make sure enough blood and oxygen get to your cells and tissues.

Can Sepsis be prevented?

We don't know yet exactly why sepsis occurs. We do know that by limiting your exposure to infections, you limit your risk of developing sepsis.

This means

  • Washing your hands thoroughly and frequently
  • Caring for wounds, keeping them clean to avoid infection
  • Asking your doctor if you need vaccinations against illnesses like influenza and pneumonia

What should I do if I am worried that I or someone I care about has sepsis?

Unfortunately, there is no single sign or symptom of sepsis. The most common report from sepsis survivors is that the symptoms they were feeling - fever, chills, pain, shortness of breath - were the worst they had ever felt. Other warning signs to pay particular attention to are dizziness, confusion, being less responsive or unable to be awakened. We have all had colds but sepsis is more severe than a cold.

If you are worried about sepsis and at home, you should call 9-1-1. Studies suggest early care in an ambulance can make it more likely you will survive. Tell healthcare providers, "I am concerned about Sepsis." This gives them a specific concern to address. Remember that sepsis is also a common complication of people hospitalized for other reasons. So, if you are feeling worse after surgery or a loved one is not continuing to get better, insist that sepsis be considered.

One of the easiest ways to prevent sepsis is by making sure that no one touches you in the hospital unless you see them wash their hands. This is the greatest protection against infections and sepsis in the hospital.

Why haven't I heard about sepsis?

You aren't alone. A recent national survey found that just over half of Americans have heard of sepsis. Sepsis may occur in a patient battling other conditions, such as cancer or stroke. A lack of sepsis awareness makes it easier to refer to these deaths as complications of the prior condition; rather than from sepsis. Sepsis is also often referred to in the media as "septicemia" or "blood poisoning" - increasing confusion.

What can I do to help?

Education and awareness about sepsis - both recognizing sepsis and treating - is vital.

You can help

  • Say the word
    • If you suspect you or a loved one is developing sepsis, ask your doctor or nurse right away and mention the word "sepsis".
  • Spread the word
    • Tell friends, co-workers, and loved ones to lookout for the warning sign of sepsis.
  • Support the cause
    • Help Sepsis Alliance get the word out about the dangers of sepsis through volunteering, hosting a fundraiser or making a donation.


Top 11 Things Everyone Should Know About sepsis:

  1. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body's response to infection injures its own tissues and organs.
  2. Sepsis is a medical emergency. Minutes matter.
  3. No one is immune. Sepsis can strike anyone regardless of age, race, color, or creed.
  4. Despite more than 1.6 million cases a year, just over half of Americans have heard of sepsis.
  5. Sepsis kills more people in the US than breast, lung and prostate cancer combined.
  6. Sepsis kills more kids in the US than cancer.
  7. There is no single sign or symptom of sepsis.
  8. Warning signs can include dizziness, shortness of breath, confusion, and sleepiness.
  9. Delays in antibiotic administration can increase the risk of death from sepsis.
  10. There is no FDA-approved therapy for sepsis. Immediate treatment with antibiotics and fluids could cut the number of deaths in half.
  11. If you are worried about sepsis, tell your healthcare provider: "I am concerned about sepsis."


Critical Facts:

  • Sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals.

  • 62% of people hospitalized with sepsis are re-hospitalized within 30 days.
  • As many as 92% of sepsis cases originate in the community.
  • Mortality from sepsis increases 8% for every hour that treatment is delayed. As many as 80% of sepsis deaths could be prevented with rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Human Cost

  • Sepsis affects over 26 million people worldwide each year and is the largest killer of children - more than 5 million each year.

  • More than 1.6 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with sepsis each year - one every 20 seconds and the incidence is rising 8% every year.
  • 258,000 people die from sepsis every year in the U.S. - one every 2 minutes; more than from prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined.
  • More than 42,000 children develop severe sepsis each year and 4,400 of these children die, more than from pediatric cancers.
  • Sepsis causes at least 75,000 maternal deaths every year worldwide and is driving increases in pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S.
  • Every day, there is an average of 38 amputations in the U.S. as the result of sepsis.
  • Sepsis survivors have a shortened life expectancy, are more likely to suffer from an impaired quality of life, and are 42% more likely to commit suicide.

Economic Cost

  • Sepsis is the #1 cost of hospitalization in the U.S. consuming more than $24 billion each year.

  • The average cost per hospital stay for sepsis is $18,400, double the average cost per stay across all other conditions.
  • Sepsis is the #1 cause for readmission to the hospital costing more than $2 billion each year.


  • Just 55% of U.S. adults have heard of sepsis.

For more information regarding life after sepsis, please refer to this fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Quality & Safety