Sepsis and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

When the novel coronavirus, SARS-Co-2, which causes COVID-19, began to spread, the healthcare community didn’t know what to expect. It quickly became obvious that COVID-19 was a serious infection. It also turned out that severe COVID-19 is viral sepsis.

Coronaviruses themselves are not new and for the most part, they aren’t usually serious. The common cold is a coronavirus, for example. But so are more serious infections, like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). What these infections all have in common is their symptoms: coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and fever. When a new coronavirus is identified, it’s called a novel coronavirus until it’s given an official name.

What makes this coronavirus special?

COVID-19, first discovered in December 2019, was a new virus with no known previous history. Scientists had to scramble to find the virus origins, how it behaved, and what might kill it or prevent it from spreading. Although it had similar symptoms to seasonal influenza, SARS, MERS, and other illnesses, COVID-19 was not the same. And because it was a new virus, scientists had a lot to learn about the infection.

Since the spread of COVID-19 began, new mutations began to circulate. This is not unusual. As viruses spread and contaminate more people, they often mutate as well. There are several COVID-19 virus mutations.

How serious is COVID-19?

The short answer is “it is very serious.” While many people who contract the virus experience mild to moderate symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath, and fever, this coronavirus affects some people harder than others. This could lead to viral sepsis and result in death. In addition, people with COVID-19 can develop secondary bacterial infections, like pneumonia, which can also lead to sepsis.

Some children who contract COVID-19 also develop a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). It occurs when “different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs,” according to the CDC.

On September 21, 2020, the American Medical Association added the following to their website: “Surviving severe COVID-19 means surviving viral sepsis. And while there is little published data on long-term outcomes of severe COVID-19, what is known is that recovering from sepsis caused by other pathogens is a long and difficult process that includes, among other things, increased odds of cognitive impairment and functional limitations—even down to inability to bathe, toilet or dress independently.”

Sepsis, which was often called blood poisoning, is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Suggested Citation:
Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and  TOPIC. 2023. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/coronavirus-covid-19/

Updated December 12, 2023.

 

More About COVID-19

Risks for Sepsis Survivors

Overall, sepsis survivors are at higher risk of contracting infections within a few months of their recovery. This would include any infection, including COVID-19. However, there is no scientific literature yet that shows a connection between surviving sepsis and developing this infection.

Many people who contract COVID-19 recover without any further medical problems. However, some survivors don’t recover completely and experience continuing or new physical and mental ailments. This has been called “long COVID” by many. The CDC lists many health issues that COVID-19 survivors may face.

Testing

If you have any signs of COVID-19 (cough, fever, shortness of breath), consider taking a home test to see if you have the virus.

Prevention

This virus spreads the same way as the flu.  Therefore, the best way to reduce your risk of infection is by being up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines, wearing masks when in contact with others in indoor spaces or packed outdoor spaces, and thorough and complete hand washing with soap and water. Hand sanitizers should be used when you’re not near a sink. Also, avoiding touching your face (including your eyes) when you are outside.

If you have any type of infection, including a respiratory virus like COVID-19, isolate yourself from others to prevent spreading the virus. Rest as much as you can and monitor your progress. If you get worse or show any signs of sepsis, go to your local emergency room or call 911.

Vaccines

Scientists all over the world began working on a vaccine for COVID-19 almost as soon as the virus was identified. Unlike other vaccine development, which is done in solitary labs over long periods, researchers collaborated with one another, sharing findings. This sped up what they knew about the virus and possible angles to use as a vaccine.

The U.S. now has these approved COVID-19 vaccines.

Related Resources

LA SEPSIS Y EL COVID-19/NUEVO CORONAVIRUS

  • To submit this form you are required to enter your first name, last name, a valid email address and your role.

Information Guide

Sepsis and COVID-19

  • To submit this form you are required to enter your first name, last name, a valid email address and your role.

Keli C.

My name is Keli, I’m a septic shock survivor. November 2023 I went on a family cruise for Thanksgiving, the last day of the trip I developed a high fever of 104, no other symptoms. Got off the ship and went to urgent care and tested positive for COVID. (Sepsis and Covid-19) I immediately started vomiting to a point of blacking out, was rushed to the ER where I was admitted into ICU for weeks. Blood cultures came back that I had bacterial meningitis from a contaminated snorkeling gear I used while on the cruise plus COVID. (Sepsis and Meningitis) ... Read Full Story

Submit Your StoryView More Stories

Christina Beaver

At 42 years old and a widowed mother of 4. I became sick in September of 2021. I became seriously ill from covid. (Sepsis and COVID-19) iInstead of improving, as it went along I got worse. I ended up having covid pneumonia and sepsis. I was on a ventilator and in ICU for two weeks. My family was told that I may not survive. I had to regain strength in my legs and arms after coming off the ventilator. I was very weak and also on oxygen for awhile afterwards. I think I survived for my children because they needed ... Read Full Story

Submit Your StoryView More Stories

Corey Cocke

After 4 weeks of illness from covid 19 and getting sicker by the day..I laid down to take a nap. Woke up shaking, colder than I’d ever been. After about 10 mins of trying to get warm my family called 911. Took the ER about 36 hour too figure out I had sepsis. (Sepsis and COVID-19) I lost consciousness in route to ER. Took 5 days for me even realize I was still alive. Days 1 through 4 I was given 10% chance of survival. Been home 7 weeks now. Already had a relapse of leg infection. And wondering if ... Read Full Story

Submit Your StoryView More Stories

Sheri Ritchie

All of a sudden, while sitting in my car, getting ready to take a friend to work, this feeling of overwhelming terrible sickness came over me. I figured it was just a relapse of the covid I had dealt with about 10 days prior and thought I was free and clear from up to now. I gave myself about 15 minutes before I called off taking my friend to work.I went to where I knew I could just lay and rest and then I proceeded to turn into just a ball. I had a piercing pain in my upper right ... Read Full Story

Submit Your StoryView More Stories

Samantha Cercena

While most were out celebrating and with their families, I got ring in 2022 in an ICU, alone, and on a vent. My sepsis journey started in 2020 when I contracted COVID-19. (Sepsis and COVID-19) Following my infection I developed the illness gastroparesis. By the beginning of 2021 I was using a feeding tube for all my nutritional needs. In November of 2021 my physicians decided that the tube wasn’t enough and put a central line in my chest to start TPN. I have no memory of the week before New Years, but I’ve learned from my family that my ... Read Full Story

Submit Your StoryView More Stories

Other Topics

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

When the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, began to spread, we didn’t know what to expect. It quickly became obvious that COVID-19 was a serious infection. It also turned out that severe COVID-19 is viral sepsis.