10 Years of Sepsis Awareness Months Results in More Awareness

August 17, 2021

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Sepsis Awareness Month – an observance that focuses on educating the public and the healthcare community about sepsis-related issues. When Sepsis Alliance was founded in 2007, the organization’s foremost message was for people to watch for signs of sepsis. If they suspected sepsis, they should seek help in a timely fashion. The Sepsis Alliance team understood that people needed to understand why sepsis is so serious though. They needed to know why sepsis is a medical emergency, just as strokes and heart attacks are.

A telephone survey commissioned by Sepsis Alliance in 2011 showed that almost 60% of adults in the United States had not heard of sepsis. Among those who had heard the word, most could not define it. To help address the need for sepsis education, Sepsis Alliance proclaimed September as Sepsis Awareness Month. In 2014, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) followed suit and also recognized September as Sepsis Awareness Month.

“Observances like this are a proven way to help drive attention to important diseases and conditions. Sepsis Awareness Month has been tremendously successful in the organization’s efforts to help drive U.S. awareness,” said Thomas Heymann, President and CEO of Sepsis Alliance.

Given that more than 80% of sepsis cases occur in the community, it is vital that we educate patients, family members, friends, and providers along the continuum of care, explained Karin Molander, MD, Chair of Sepsis Alliance Board of Directors. “Ten years ago, the word sepsis was only understood by around 40% of the population. Since then, awareness of the term and screening for its typical symptoms and signs has increased significantly.” The push for sepsis awareness is saving lives, she added.

Here are some ways that Sepsis Alliance has worked to raise awareness over the past 10 years:

Sepsis Heroes

Over the years, local and national awareness opportunities arose, including community fundraisers, a gala, annual awards, and the Global Sepsis Alliance’s World Sepsis Day on September 13.

Sepsis Alliance hosted its first ever Sepsis Heroes Gala on September 13, 2012. This was made possible by the late Scott Alling, who generously donated his event space and services in New York City. The now annual event recognizes outstanding sepsis survivors, healthcare professionals, and healthcare systems. Throughout each year, the Sepsis Alliance team is on the lookout for people or organizations that might fit the Sepsis Heroes criteria. In late spring, Sepsis Alliance also invites members of the public to submit nominations.

Given that 2021 would have been the 10th gala, the Sepsis Alliance team decided that a virtual event wouldn’t do justice to such a special occasion. The event was postponed to 2022 so it could be in person. Be sure to regularly check the Sepsis Heroes page, which will be updated as details become available.

Faces of Sepsis: Sharing Stories

When sepsis survivors and those who lost someone to sepsis reach out to Sepsis Alliance for information, many offer the same refrain when speaking of their experience. They thought they were alone. Most had never heard of sepsis. They didn’t know anyone who had sepsis.

To help address this need for a community and for sharing experiences, Sepsis Alliance launched Faces of Sepsis™, also in 2011.  The feature’s goal was to help people feel connected to others who had lived through similar situations.

Ten years later, Faces of Sepsis hosts over 1,500 stories of sepsis survival and loss. Contributors have shared how the illness began, their treatment, and what life is like for them now. Others have shared how they lost a loved one to sepsis. Many of those left behind live with feelings of helplessness and guilt. They wonder how things might have been different had they known about sepsis and what to watch for. Partner organizations, news sources, and advocates have featured some of these stories.

Nursing Awards for Sepsis Care and Management

Sepsis Awareness Month also recognizes nurses, the frontline healthcare professionals who help identify and manage sepsis. The Erin’s Campaign for Kids Nursing Awards are presented to nurses and student nurses who focus on sepsis care. Candidates apply for the award. In their application, they describe their work with sepsis, and what they would do with the financial award should they receive it.

You can learn about the most recent nursing award winners here.

Sepsis Awareness Month Proclamations

Another way to help spread the word about Sepsis Awareness Month is through state proclamations. Over the past 10 years, sepsis advocates have reached out to their state lawmakers, asking them to officially recognize Sepsis Awareness Month in their state, to go along with the national recognition of the observance.

“50 for Sepsis Awareness” is the goal – that all 50 states recognize this important yearly observance. To learn more about how you can get your state to sign on, look at the information available in this 2021 Sepsis Awareness Month Toolkit.

Sepsis Awareness Month Proclamation map


Sepsis Awareness Events

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, events were held across the country to help raise sepsis awareness. Activities included fun runs, awareness fairs, and Sepsis Challenge events. Since the start of the pandemic though, people had to find other creative ways to be sepsis advocates.

The 5th annual Sepsis Awareness Superhero Challenge opened for registration on August 15th. The event is entirely virtual and lets participants pick their own physical activity to raise awareness.

People have come up with other sepsis awareness events in their community also. Last year, a health system in Indiana hosted a “Sock It to Sepsis Day.” Employees wore red socks as part of their outfits as they participated in activities throughout the facility. A company in California used the Sepsis Awareness Month logo as Zoom call backgrounds.

Healthcare provider education also increases in September. In 2020, Sepsis Alliance launched the Sepsis Alliance Summit. The virtual event provided educational opportunities for people who work in healthcare. Speakers covered topics like:

  • Addressing health inequities in sepsis and COVID-19
  • Early sepsis diagnosis
  • Enhancing recovery from sepsis.

You can learn more about the 2021 event at SepsisSummit.org.

The Results: Sepsis Awareness Increases

The efforts of Sepsis Alliance, hospital systems and staff across the country, and sepsis advocates have made a difference. The 2012 sepsis awareness survey results remained consistent with the year before, but then awareness numbers began to rise. By 2017, 58% of survey respondents said they had heard of sepsis. In 2020, awareness of the word reached an all-time high of 71%. But it’s not all good news.

Having heard the word “sepsis” and knowing what the word means are two different things. In 2019, Sepsis Alliance learned that while 57% of U.S. adults could identify three stroke symptoms, only 14% could correctly identify the four most common sepsis symptoms. This is despite strokes affecting half as many people as sepsis.

“The first step in sepsis care is recognition,” Dr. Molander said. “If we do not look for it, we will not find it until it is staring us in the face of a critically ill patient. It is TIME to train the community on subtle signs and symptoms of sepsis.”


Will you join Sepsis Alliance this Sepsis Awareness Month?

Visit the Sepsis Awareness Month page to learn about some of the ways you can participate, from the Sepsis Awareness Superhero Challenge to 50 for Sepsis Awareness. Don’t forget to follow Sepsis Alliance on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn), to get up-to-date information on what is happening during September and throughout the year. You can also download the Healthcare Provider & Community Leader Toolkit, which provides key messages, resources, and infographics for your use.

Suspect sepsis. Save lives.