With more than 258,000 lives being lost per year, Sepsis ranks as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. (after heart disease and cancer).
More than 1.6 million cases of sepsis every year and survivors often face long-term effects post-sepsis, including amputations, anxiety, memory loss, chronic pain and fatigue, and more. Almost 60 percent of sepsis survivors experience worsened cognitive (mental) and/or physical function.
Here are answers to the 5 most common questions about the condition, as provided by the public awareness group Sepsis Alliance:
What is sepsis?
A more specific definition of sepsis can be found here but in brief, sepsis is your body’s toxic, or severe, response to an infection. This extreme inflammatory response (swelling) in your body is frequently caused by a bacterial or viral infection, such as pneumonia or influenza, but it can be caused by parasitic or fungal infections.
Your body’s immune system, which is supposed to fight off the infection, goes into overdrive and begins to attack your body.
Sepsis is a medical emergency and must be treated quickly and properly for survival.
Some people still refer to sepsis as septacaemia. That is the older way of referring to it, but sepsis is the preferred term.
What are the symptoms?
Sepsis symptoms start off very subtly and may mimic a flu or virus. It’s important to look for the warning signs of sepsis. Spotting these symptoms early could prevent the body from entering septic shock, and could save a life:
S – Shiver, fever, or very cold
E – Extreme pain or general discomfort (“worst ever”)
P – Pale or discolored skin
S – Sleepy, difficult to rouse, confused
I – “I feel like I might die”
S – Short of breath
Who can get sepsis?
While we don’t know for sure if anyone is immune to sepsis, it does appear that anyone can get it. Some people are at a higher risk of developing sepsis than others. This includes the very old, the very young, and people who may have other health issues.
Is it contagious?
No, sepsis is not contagious. The infection that triggered sepsis could be contagious. For example, chicken pox can spread between children (and adults), but if someone with chicken pox develops sepsis, this does not mean someone else who has chicken pox will also develop sepsis. This is because sepsis is your body’s reaction to infection, not an infection itself.
How can sepsis be prevented?
Sepsis is frequently the result of an infection, so by treating any infection seriously, you will decrease the chances of developing sepsis. This means:
- Taking antibiotics if prescribed.
- Finishing the entire course of antibiotics.
- Don’t take antibiotics or take someone else’s antibiotics needlessly to reduce the chances of developing antibiotic-resistant infections.
- Frequent and thorough hand washing.
- Asking your doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional to wash their hands if you have not seen them do so.
- Ensure that sterile technique is used for any invasive procedure, like insertion of a urinary catheter or intravenous catheter.
- Consult with your doctor about recommended vaccines.
- Get vaccinated for the seasonal flu.