COVID-19 and Viral Sepsis? We Want to Hear From You

May 28, 2020

For the past few years, Sepsis Alliance has encouraged sepsis survivors and those who lost loved ones to sepsis to submit their stories to our Faces of Sepsis. With the increasing number of COVID-19 cases and the potential of a second wave later this year, we expect there will be many more viral sepsis survivors than ever before. If you or someone you love had sepsis from COVID-19, we would like you to share your story, so others can learn from you and your experiences.

Bacterial Sepsis versus Viral Sepsis

Although sepsis can be caused by any type of infection, ordinarily the most common cause is a bacterial infection. Often, it’s respiratory (pneumonia) or a urinary tract infection, but bacterial infections can affect any part of the body and trigger bacterial sepsis. Viral sepsis is caused by viral infections, like the flu. And now in 2020, many cases of viral sepsis are triggered by COVID-19.

Viral sepsis is particularly challenging to manage because it doesn’t present (show up) the same way bacterial sepsis does. As pointed out in an earlier article, sepsis can cause abnormal vital signs (blood pressure, pulse, and respirations). This alerts the nurses and doctors that the infection is worsening. But the tests that typically alert them to bacterial sepsis don’t necessarily change in patients with viral sepsis. “This has been part of the challenge with COVID-19,” explains Karin Molander, MD, an emergency room physician and chair of the Sepsis Alliance Board of Directors.

In addition, it may not be the viral infection (COVID-19) that starts the sepsis process. It’s not unusual for someone with a viral infection to develop secondary bacterial infections, like pneumonia. In these cases, it is possible that it is the pneumonia that triggered the sepsis response.

Triple Trouble for Cancer Patient

An article published on May 26 on the NBC News website introduced readers to Eliza Paris, a young woman who has cancer and is receiving treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Eliza had to undergo emergency surgery. When she woke in the ICU, she learned that in addition to her cancer, she was COVID positive and she had sepsis. Luckily, Eliza survived. But her experience shone a light on people who are at even higher risk of not only contracting COVID-19, but suffering the severe effects.

According to the article, “Cancer patients are high-risk for coronavirus complications, as both the disease and its treatments tend to weaken the immune system, according to the American Cancer Society. In a recent study of 218 coronavirus patients with cancer in New York City, roughly one in four patients died. A similar study involving 14 hospitals in China found the coronavirus’s death rate was three times higher for cancer patients.”

Share Your COVID-19 and Viral Sepsis Story

Did you have COVID-19 that progressed to viral sepsis? Would you like to share your story? There are hundreds of Faces of Sepsis on the site from people who developed sepsis after surgery, an infected bug bite, and so many other causes. More are coming in every week. By sharing these stories, people learn about how sepsis can affect anyone at any time. It helps those who haven’t experienced sepsis to learn about how it happens and what symptoms may appear. Many of our contributors also felt that by sharing their story, they were helping in their own healing. You can share your story here.


submit your story of bacterial sepsis or viral sepsis