The mission of Sepsis Alliance is simple: to save lives by raising awareness of sepsis as a medical emergency.

Our mission extends to helping individuals who are suffering from sepsis, as well as their family and friends. We also work with healthcare providers to help spot the symptoms of sepsis, sooner rather than later.

These FAQs are designed to answer the most common questions we receive about sepsis and about Sepsis Alliance, from both individuals and medical professionals.

Sepsis FAQs

What Is Sepsis?

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 of sepsis?

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

Watch for a combination of these symptoms, especially if you recently had a cut, scrape, surgery, or any type of illness or invasive procedure. If you suspect sepsis, see a doctor urgently, call 911, or go to a hospital and say, “I am concerned about sepsis.”

How large a problem is sepsis?

Only 58% of American adults have ever heard the word sepsis. Although this is more than previous years, that leaves many who still don’t know what it is.

In a study released in 2011, the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (H-CUP) identified 836,000 hospital discharges in 2009 where septicemia was a principal diagnosis, and 829,500 discharges where septicemia was a secondary diagnosis. The in-hospital mortality rates for each were 16.3% and 14.7%, respectively, totalling 258,204 deaths per year directly attributable to sepsis.

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). Using data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sepsis would rank higher than chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and accidental deaths.

The same H-CUP report identified that there are 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% of sepsis survivors experience worsened cognitive (mental) and/or physical function.

Many sepsis survivors also require rehospitalization. Over 62% of people who had a primary diagnosis of sepsis (the reason why they were hospitalized in the first place) who had to be readmitted to the hospital were rehospitalized within 30 days of first leaving the hospital. And among children, almost half who have had severe sepsis end up being hospitalized again. Sepsis is also the most expensive in-hospital condition in the U.S., costing more than $20 billion each year counting just acute care in-hospital costs.

What is the difference between sepsis and septic shock?

Sepsis is your body’s toxic response to infection. When it causes organs to fail, it is called severe sepsis. When it is accompanied by low blood pressure, it is called septic shock and carries the highest risk of death and complications.

Can anyone 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. Here are some examples:

Sepsis and Aging

Sepsis and Children

Sepsis and Cancer

Sepsis and Diabetes

Sepsis and HIV/AIDS

Why have I never heard of sepsis before?

Sepsis isn’t talked about very often and when it is, it is often referred to incorrectly as “blood poisoning.” We hear of people dying of infections, but often this is really sepsis. The reason people don’t hear about it is that the word is often not used.

To get a better idea of how many people know about sepsis, Sepsis Alliance has commissioned annual polls through Harris Interactive.

The most recent poll, done in mid-2013, showed that while we are seeing progress in awareness, more than half of Americans still had not heard of sepsis.

Is sepsis 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.

I read about sepsis sometimes in the news but they say it's a rare complication. So why should I be worried?

Journalists have been writing about sepsis more than ever, and sepsis has been mentioned more often in movies and on TV. However, there still is a lot of misinformation, including the incorrect idea that sepsis is rare. This could be because sepsis is still not reported very often. That being said, just because it says in the news that sepsis is rare, doesn’t mean it is true. Sepsis is not rare. Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is affected by the condition.

Do you have any information on sepsis available in any other languages?

We have some information about sepsis available on the site in Spanish. We also have our brochures, What is Sepsis, translated into Spanish.

Has anyone famous gotten sepsis?

We don’t hear about sepsis in the news very often but it has touched many famous people. Here are just a few examples:

Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, died of sepsis that developed from pneumonia, in 1990. Actor Jeff Conaway (2011) and singer Chuck Brown (21012) also died of sepsis from pneumonia. Jazz pianist Fred Hersch survived his pneumonia-related sepsis.

Actor Christopher Reeve, best known for his role as Superman, had a severely infected pressure sore (bed sore or ulcer), and died of anaphylactic shock in 2004.

Pope John-Paul II and Brazilian model Mariana Bridi Costa, both died from sepsis that developed from a urinary tract infection (UTI).

In 2013, singer Chris Young survived a bout of sepsis caused by MRSA infection.

British singer Lily Allen developed sepsis after having a miscarriage.

Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose developed sepsis in 2007 from an E. coli infection.

For a more complete list of names, click here.

What can I do if my doctor tells me not to worry about sepsis?

Sepsis can be tricky to diagnose because the symptoms can be very vague in the beginning or they can mimic other illnesses. However, if you are concerned about sepsis and you have voiced your concerns, you may need to ask for a second opinion. If necessary, bring research with you to back up your concerns, particularly patient education sheets.

If your loved one is sent home, watch closely for any signs of deterioration and don’t hesitate to go back to the emergency department or urgent care center if you feel that he or she needs to be reevaluated.

Can I prevent sepsis?

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
  • Cough into your elbow, not your hand (to help prevent spreading infection if you are sick)
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle with nutritious food, exercise, and rest
  • Seek medical help if an illness does not seem to be improving or it is getting worse
Are some people at higher risk for getting sepsis than others?

There are some people who are higher risk of developing sepsis than others. However, it’s important to keep in mind that sepsis is triggered by an infection somewhere in the body. So people who are higher risk of contracting infections are also at higher risk of developing sepsis.

If you follow infection prevention techniques (regular handwashing, vaccinations, avoiding people who are ill), and if you treat infections that do occur quickly and seriously, you can reduce your sepsis risk.

To learn more about risk factors, please visit the Sepsis Risk Factors page.

Where can I go to learn more about sepsis?

Explore the Sepsis Alliance website for additional information about sepsis. You may also want to learn more at our resources section, where you will find a wide array of links, literature, and related information on sepsis.

Sepsis Alliance also has an active Facebook page, where survivors and loved ones who have lost someone to sepsis gather to ask questions and offer support.

Concerns About Sepsis

How will I know if my sepsis has come back?

If you have had sepsis and you start to feel ill again, check with your healthcare professional. The rule of thumb is if you have a reason to be worried, get checked.

I have an infection. What should I do?

If you believe you may have an infection, the best thing to do is to see your healthcare provider, or visit a clinic or urgent care facility.

Can you recommend any doctors treating sepsis in my area? What type of specialists treat sepsis?

Sepsis, unlike diabetes or a broken bone, isn’t a specialty area. There are no doctors who specialize in treating sepsis. The doctors who are most likely to see patients who have sepsis are intensivists, physicians who work in the intensive care unit (ICU) and emergency room physicians, who see the patients when they come in for urgent care. For this reason, we cannot specifically recommend anyone for sepsis treatment.

For post-sepsis syndrome, again, there are no specialists. However, there may be physicians or healthcare professionals who can help. For people who are experiencing anxiety, depression, or signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychologists or psychiatrists may be helpful. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications, while psychologists focus on therapy, such as cognitive therapy. People with chronic pain may want to visit a physician who specializes in pain or a pain clinic. In other words, the type of professional who may help depends on what the PSS issues are. It may take some trial and error before finding a healthcare professional who can help.

My mother is in the hospital right now being treated for sepsis. I don't think she is being treated right. Please tell me what to do.

Unfortunately, we can’t comment on individual cases and treatment. Every patient is different and the approaches to his or her care depend on too many variables.

If you are not comfortable or happy with the care in the hospital, there are a couple of routes you may be able to take. First, you can ask for a family meeting. Such a meeting usually involves representatives of the various healthcare team members − a doctor, nurse, and other allied healthcare professionals. When asking for the meeting, you can tell them the purpose is to ask questions so you can better understand what is going on. These meetings are most helpful if you go in with your list of questions and concerns written down and, if possible, you have a neutral person with you. A friend or family member who can help you if things get tough can be invaluable. As well, a second person may hear or understand things that you may miss as you are trying to gather all your information.

If you cannot call such a meeting or you have had one and you are not satisfied with the results, check if the facility has a patient advocate or ombudsman. If there is an advocate or ombudsman, you can ask for a meeting and see if he or she can be of help. They often can answer questions and find out the answers to ones that they cannot answer. If there is no such advocate, you can ask to meet with the hospital president.

What can I do if my doctor tells me not to worry about sepsis?

Sepsis can be tricky to diagnose because the symptoms can be very vague in the beginning or they can mimic other illnesses. However, if you are concerned about sepsis and you have voiced your concerns, you may need to ask for a second opinion. If necessary, bring research with you to back up your concerns, particularly patient education sheets.

If your loved one is sent home, watch closely for any signs of deterioration and don’t hesitate to go back to the emergency department or urgent care center if you feel that he or she needs to be reevaluated.

Life After Sepsis

Since my discharge from the hospital after sepsis, my friends and family say that I'm not the same. I'm depressed. I have nightmares. I'm afraid that I'll get sick again. What is wrong?

Many people who survive sepsis or septic shock may look fine physically, but they may have lingering problems like depression or anxiety, or they may be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Post-sepsis syndrome (PSS) can include PTSD. This is not unusual for people who spent time in an ICU, particularly if they needed a ventilator to help them breathe. Post-sepsis syndrome is still not well known in the medical community.

There are counselors and therapists who specialize in these issues, including PTSD, so if you can arrange to see one, this could be a good first step to recovery. You can begin by asking at the hospital where you were treated as they may have therapists who they work with or recommend.

You can learn more about PTSD here: Life After Sepsis: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

And about post-sepsis syndrome (PSS) here: Life After Sepsis: Post-Sepsis Syndrome

I have a lot of problems since coming home from the hospital where I had sepsis. I am very tired, have chronic pain, and I forget things all the time. What can I do about this?

What you are complaining about is not unusual among sepsis survivors. Some survivors recover completely, some have one or two lasting issues, some have many. A recent study found that 59% of severe sepsis survivors had worsened cognitive and/or physical function, or both. One of the many unknowns about sepsis is that we don’t know why some survivors recover completely and others don’t. And because there are so many unknowns, finding a healthcare provider who can help you can be very difficult.

Some options you might want to try are:

  • Finding a physician who specializes in pain management (such as at a pain management clinic)
  • Seeing a therapist or counselor to learn coping techniques for the pain, fatigue, and cognitive issues
  • Looking for sepsis survivors in your city to see if there is or you can form a support group
  • Looking for chronic pain support groups, not necessarily related to post-sepsis syndrome
  • Printing out our letter that addresses what post-sepsis syndrome is and offer it to your physician
I was in the hospital with sepsis. Can I get sepsis again?

Sepsis can affect anyone at any time, but some people are at higher risk than others. There has been some research that looked at how sepsis survivors do over the long-term and researchers have found that over the following year at least, some survivors are more prone to contracting another infection. Of course, when there is an infection, there is a risk of sepsis.

Among people over 65 years old, their risk of becoming ill again is also higher, for a variety of reasons. In addition, infections in older people aren’t always obvious so they may be ill for longer before an infection is detected. Therefore, this untreated infection may lead to sepsis.

Does Sepsis Alliance have a forum or support group where we can talk to other sepsis survivors?

Currently Sepsis Alliance does not have a forum or dedicated support group for people to talk about sepsis and sepsis-related issues. We do have a Facebook page, where many people gather to offer support, however. If you are not on Facebook and are reluctant to start, keep in mind that it is possible to set up an account to use only for one purpose, such as joining the SA page.

I have a lot of questions about what happened to a family member who had sepsis. Who can I speak to at Sepsis Alliance about the situation?

Questions related to a person’s specific medical situation should be addressed to healthcare professionals who are familiar with the case. Sepsis Alliance cannot offer opinions or advice as to whether a person received appropriate treatment while under medical care.

I'm depressed and anxious, and things are getting worse. I need to talk to someone. Where can I get help?

If you feel you need to speak to a therapist or get counseling, please visit our Mental Health Resource page, where we have identified some organizations that may be helpful. There is also a state-wide list of mental health assistance.

I am very unhappy with the care my mother received when she had sepsis and I want to sue. Can you look at her files and see if I have a case? Can you testify on our behalf? Can you help us find a lawyer?

Sepsis Alliance does not recommend lawyers, review cases, or offer opinions of cases for legal matters.

Since my husband has been so ill, we've fallen behind on our payments and we are going to lose our home. Can you help us pay our bills?

Sepsis Alliance is a patient advocacy organization. Unfortunately, we are not able to provide monetary help to people or organizations at this time.

Faces of Sepsis

I read a Faces of Sepsis story that really touched me and I'd like to get in touch with the person who wrote it. Why can't I leave a message?

The Faces of Sepsis section of the Sepsis Alliance website was set up so people could share their stories, so others might not feel so alone. If there is someone who you would like to get in touch with, click on the feedback link at the bottom of the story and send your request and contact information to us. We will then contact the person who wrote the story, offering him or her the opportunity to contact you.

Please know that we can’t always get hold of the contributor as people do change their email addresses sometimes and may not think to advise us. As well, once we have passed on the information, it is out of our control whether they contact you.

I submitted a Faces of Sepsis story but never heard back and it's not on the site. Why not?

When we receive a Faces of Sepsis submission, someone from Sepsis Alliance replies to notify the sender that the story has been received. This email is also a double check system to ensure that the story was meant to be for publication. When we receive a response, the story is then formatted for posting.

Occasionally we receive stories from people who have incorrectly entered their email addresses in the submission form. If the email address has been entered incorrectly, unless there is a phone number we can call, we have no way of responding and verifying that the story is to be posted. In this case, the story goes on hold until the contributor reaches out again.

 

Sepsis Alliance FAQs

What Is Sepsis Alliance?

What is Sepsis Alliance?

Sepsis Alliance is the leading United States-based organization dedicated to raising awareness, the early detection, and effective management, of the country’s number three killer: sepsis. The Sepsis Alliance mission is to save lives by raising awareness of sepsis as a medical emergency.

Does Sepsis Alliance use a particular color to help raise awareness?

Sepsis Alliance uses red and black as its signature colors. They are used on any material related to Sepsis Alliance and products with the Sepsis Alliance name and logo.

I see that Sepsis Alliance is in San Diego, California. Are there any chapters in other cities and states?

The administrative office for Sepsis Alliance is located in San Diego. There are no chapters of the organization. However, SA does support and help organize awareness events across the country and, when possible, helps provide speakers upon request.

What is the difference between Sepsis Alliance and the Global Sepsis Alliance?

Sepsis Alliance was founded in 2007 by Dr. Carl Flatley, after the death of his daughter Erin to sepsis. Three years later in 2010, Sepsis Alliance joined with other organizations around the world to form the Global Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis Alliance is one of five founding organizations. While Sepsis Alliance and Global Sepsis Alliance are two separate entities, the two organizations support each other to further spread sepsis awareness.

Is there a Sepsis Alliance in Canada?

No, Sepsis Alliance is in the United States, however we respond to many questions and requests for information from Canadians. We also have several Faces of Sepsis stories from Canadian contributors.

Why do we need Sepsis Alliance?

Every year in the United States, more than 1.6 million people are diagnosed with sepsis and over 258,000 people die of sepsis. Sepsis is also the most expensive cost of hospitalization in the U.S. costing more than $20 billion each year, according to a report released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Around the world, millions die of sepsis. According to the Global Sepsis Alliance (GSA), of which SA is a founding member, sepsis is one of the leading causes of death around the world, with approximately sepsis accounting for 60% to 80% of deaths in developing countries. “It kills more than 6 million infants and young children, and 100,000 new mothers every year,” the site says. “Every few seconds, someone in the world dies of sepsis.” There are also thousands of survivors and while some may recover completely, many are left with life-changing long-term effects from the disease.

In the United States, sepsis is frequently not recognized early enough to treat it successfully. In developing countries, it is recognized, but healthcare workers don’t have the resources to fight it. Sepsis Alliance is a patient-advocacy group that is raising public and professional awareness of this deadly condition.

Who started Sepsis Alliance?

Sepsis Alliance began in 2007 as the result of the work done by Carl Flatley, DDS, MSD. Dr. Flatley lost his 23-year-old daughter, Erin, to sepsis. You can read about Erin in her Faces of Sepsis story.

Funding

Why does Sepsis Alliance need funding and what does it do with the money raised?

In North America, members of the general public and healthcare professionals don’t always recognize the beginning of sepsis. Unfortunately, because of the speed at which sepsis develops and worsens, the longer it takes to detect, the lower the chances of treating it successfully.

With adequate funding, Sepsis Alliance can work on raising public and professional awareness of this often fatal condition. We are able develop and distribute educational materials (in print and online) for the general public and for healthcare professionals to use when speaking to patients and families.

Where does Sepsis Alliance get its funding?

Sepsis Alliance depends on private donations, and grants from corporations and foundations.

How much of Sepsis Alliance funding goes to programs?

More than 80% of funding goes to creating and managing programs to help raise awareness of sepsis and provide education to the public and healthcare communities. Sepsis Alliance is a Guidestar Gold Rated Five Star Charity.

If I donate funds to Sepsis Alliance, does it stay in the U.S. or go to the Global Sepsis Alliance?

Any donations sent to Sepsis Alliance stay with Sepsis Alliance. These funds are used to further its mission of saving lives and reducing suffering by raising awareness of sepsis as a medical emergency.

Will I get a tax receipt if I donate to Sepsis Alliance?

Sepsis Alliance is a 501(c)(3) Public Charity. Tax receipts are given for donations to Sepsis Alliance.

Can I donate in someone's name, or someone who has died of sepsis?

Absolutely. Many people donate to causes of their choice after the death of a loved one. You may also ask others to donate in your loved one’s name.

I have never had sepsis, so why should I support sepsis awareness and education?

Sepsis is an equal opportunity illness that can kill any man, woman, or child, as well as anyone of any age, socioeconomic status, or ethnic origin. It has no geographical boundaries and kills people in both developed and developing countries.

The onset of sepsis isn’t something that can predicted. A usually healthy 27-year-old mother of three can get sepsis after developing a urinary tract infection just as a 75-year-old man who has pneumonia can. We never know if we could be the next one to develop sepsis.

How can I help if I want to do more?

Sepsis Alliance is always looking for volunteers to share their stories on its website, help at events, fundraise in their community, and participate in fundraising events. We have individuals and groups who have started walks for Sepsis, sold homemade items to raise money for Sepsis Alliance, and played volleyball to help “Spike out Sepsis.” Visit here to learn more about how you can get involved.

How do I hold a fundraiser for Sepsis Alliance?

Fundraisers are a great way to raise community awareness of sepsis and to raise funds to help Sepsis Alliance continue its work. You can look at our fundraising page for ideas, and you can contact SA by mail or phone to discuss how you can help.

May I use your logo for our fundraiser?

If you are raising funds and sepsis awareness on behalf of Sepsis Alliance, please contact the office at info@sepsisalliance.org to inquire about the materials you may use for your event.