5 Unusual Ways to Get Sepsis
November 22, 2021
Any infection, anywhere in the body, can cause sepsis. While sepsis is most frequently caused by respiratory infections, like pneumonia; urinary tract infections (UTIs); and infections on the skin, other infections that may not seem serious can also cause sepsis. Some may surprise you. Here are 5 different ways people can get infections that can lead to sepsis:
1- Open fractures
Open fractures, also called compound fractures, occur when bone breaks through the skin causing an open wound. The infection risk is immediate to both the exposed bone and the wound. Alex Smith, a quarterback with National Football League’s Washington Football team, sustained a serious compound fracture in November 2018. He developed necrotizing fasciitis, which led to sepsis. He needed 17 surgeries to save his leg.
If you see a broken bone poking through the skin, cover it with a clean towel or cloth to protect it from dirt. Go to the emergency department immediately. If it is possible, try to elevate the body part with the broken bone. This helps reduce swelling.
2- Respiratory infections from hot tubs and spas
A hot tub or a spa can be a great way to unwind and relax after a hectic day. If you do indulge, it’s essential the tub and water be regularly cleaned and disinfected to prevent the spread of bacteria called Legionella. This can cause a serious form of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease, or a less serious infection called Pontiac fever. Experts don’t know exactly how many people contract Legionella-related infections, but they estimate they affect about about 25,000 people in the U.S. each year.
The bacteria spread through droplets in the air, possible infecting people who breathe them in. Test strips can tell you how much chlorine and bromine is in the water, as well has the pH. Regular testing can help keep hot tubs and spas safe.
- Free chlorine level should be 3–10 parts per million
- Bromine level should be 4–8 parts per million
- pH should be 7.2–7.8
Although not common, other areas where Legionella can be present include showerheads and sink faucets, decorative water features (like fountains), hot water heaters, and large plumbing systems. Regular cleaning helps decrease the risk. In the case of the first Legionella outbreak in 1976, the bacteria were spread through the water and cooling system at a hotel that hosted 4,000 people at an American Legion conference.
3- Spider bites and other bug bites
Most of the time, bites from spiders, bedbugs, even mosquitoes are harmless, if not annoying and painful. But sometimes, bites can cause cellulitis, a skin infection, which can lead to sepsis. Dana Mirman, a member of the Sepsis Alliance Board of Directors, experienced this after she was bitten by a bug.
If you have a bug bite, watch for signs of infection. If you notice any, seek medical help immediately. Some signs and symptoms to watch for include:
- Increasing redness and swelling around the bite
- Increasing pain
- Skin around the bite feeling warmer to touch than the rest of the body
- Discharge or pus from the bite
4- Eating raw oysters
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year about 80,000 people get an infection called vibriosis from eating raw oysters and undercooked seafood. This infection is caused by Vibrio bacteria. You can also get an infection from contaminated oysters just by handling them, as well as by being in contact with contaminated water. This can happen if you swim or spend time in the water where this bacteria are present, especially if you have an open wound on the skin.
There is no way to tell if a raw oyster or the water it is in has the bacteria. The bacteria are more common in coastal waters though. The CDC says thoroughly cooking oysters and other seafood kills the bacteria.
5- Ludwig’s angina, an infection in the mouth
Angina is a term to describe severe chest pain caused by an inadequate blood supply to the heart. Ludwig’s angina, however, is an infection under the tongue, in the floor of the mouth. It’s most often caused by an infection in the second or third molar. It is a serious infection that spreads quickly. It can block your airway, making it difficult to breathe. If you experience difficulty breathing or swallowing, or your tongue or neck is swelling, this is a medical emergency. Call 911 for emergency help.
Other possible symptoms include:
- Difficulty speaking (sounding like you have something in your mouth)
- Neck pain
- Redness around the neck
Dental infections of any kind can cause sepsis. It is important to contact your dentist or an emergency dental clinic if you see any signs of infection in your mouth.
There are many more types of infections that can trigger sepsis. Learn more in our Sepsis and… library.
It is important to always be vigilant and protect yourself as much as possible. If you do develop an infection, watch for signs of sepsis. Sepsis is a medical emergency.