Southeastern Health

Sepsis: A closer look

Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

Sepsis can occur to anyone, at any time, from any type of infection, and can affect any part of the body. It can occur even after a minor infection.

Any type of infection that is anywhere in your body can cause sepsis, including infections of the skin, lungs (such as pneumonia), urinary tract, abdomen (such as appendicitis), or other part of the body. An infection occurs when germs enter a person’s body and multiply, causing illness, and organ and tissue damage.

Sepsis can be deadly. Sepsis causes millions of deaths globally each year. The worldwide incidence of sepsis is estimated to be 18 million cases per year. In the United States, sepsis affects approximately three in 1,000 people, and severe sepsis contributes to more than 200,000 deaths per year and leaves thousands of survivors with life-changing after-effects. According to CDC, sepsis is the ninth leading cause of disease-related deaths.

Anyone can get sepsis as a bad outcome from an infection, but the risk is higher in:

  • people with weakened immune systems
  • babies and very young children
  • elderly people
  • people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, AIDS, cancer, and kidney or liver disease
  • people suffering from a severe burn or wound

There is no single sign or symptom of sepsis. It is, rather, a combination of symptoms. Since sepsis is the result of an infection, symptoms can include infection signs (diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat, etc.), as well as ANY of the symptoms below:

S—Shivering, 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

Between 28 and 50 percent of people who get sepsis die. Many doctors view sepsis as a three-stage syndrome, starting with sepsis and progressing through severe sepsis to septic shock. The goal is to treat sepsis during its early stage, before it becomes more dangerous.

What you can do to help prevent sepsis:

  1. Get vaccinated against the flu, pneumonia, and any other infections that could lead to sepsis.
  2. Prevent infections that can lead to sepsis by:
    - Cleaning scrapes and wounds
    - Practicing good hygiene (e.g., hand washing, bathing regularly)
  3. Be honest with your health care provider. Inform your provider of any bump, abscess, ulcer, boil, carbuncle, cyst, canker, pimple or sore no matter where it is located on your body. If sepsis is caught early, the outcome is good for the vast majority of people. If a person is not treated immediately, research shows that for people experiencing septic shock the risk of death increases by eight percent per hour. As sepsis worsens, blood flow to vital organs becomes impaired. Sepsis can also develop small blood clots in your organs as well as in your toes, legs and fingers leading to gangrene.

If you have an infection or have had an infection and experience any signs of sepsis listed above, notify your health care provider immediately.

(Reference: CDC)

Sherry Edwards, RN, BSN, is the infection prevention and control coordinator for Southeastern Health. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (910) 671-5034.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 12 May 2016 14:52 )  
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