Pneumonia

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, including pneumonia. Pneumonia can be community-acquired, meaning that a person becomes ill with pneumonia outside of the hospital. Pneumonia can also be caused by a healthcare-associated infection (HAI), which affect 1.7 million hospitalizations in the United States every year. An HAI is an infection contracted by people while the hospital for a different reason, such as surgery or treatment for another illness.

Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis 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.

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as influenza or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue,  organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

The most common source of infection among adults is the lungs.

pneumonia is one of the most common infections leading to sepsis

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. The infection can be only in one lung, or it can be in both. There are several causes of pneumonia but the most common are:

Left untreated, the infection can be deadly. In the days before antibiotics, it’s estimated that about one-third of those who developed bacterial pneumonia died.

 Symptoms

Some people can have pneumonia and not know it, but the most common signs and symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Cough, with phlegm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Shaking chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain with breathing

You do not have to have all these symptoms to have pneumonia.

Who is at higher risk for developing the infection?

While anyone can develop pneumonia, some people are at higher risk than others. These include:

  • The elderly
  • The very young
  • People who recently had a cold or influenza
  • Smokers
  • Having a respiratory illness, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Exposure to certain inhaled toxins
  • Recent surgery
  • People in intensive care units
  • People who are malnourished

What is the treatment?

Treatment depends on the type of infection you have.

Bacterial

Antibiotics treat bacterial pneumonia. The type of antibiotics your doctor may choose depends on the bacteria causing the infection. If you have a prescription for antibiotics, you should finish all the medication, even if you start to feel better. You will begin to feel more like yourself before the infection is completely gone. If you stop the medications before the infection disappears, you could get a more serious pneumonia that can’t be treated as easily.

Viral

Viral pneumonia does not respond to antibiotics; they will not do any good. In general, there isn’t much that can be done for viral pneumonia other than advising that you rest and take in plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. In some cases, doctors may prescribe an anti-viral medication, but this is not common.

Fungal

Medications called anti-fungals treat fungal pneumonia.

Preventing pneumonia

Sometimes we can prevent pneumonia. If you have surgery that requires general anesthetic, you could be at risk for developing bacterial infection. To lower the risk, get up and out of bed after the surgery. If you can’t get up and move around, breathe deeply and cough on a regular basis. This is to help keep your lungs clear.

There is a vaccine that can help prevent a common type of pneumonia called pneumococcal pneumonia, caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. There is also a vaccine that doctors can give children to decrease the risk of developing one of four types of infections:

  • Meningitis (infection in the brain)
  • Bacteremia (infection in the blood)
  • Otitis media (infection in the middle ear)
  • Pneumonia

Doctors recommend the vaccine ito the elderly and for people at high risk of developing pneumonia. If you fall into one of those categories, you may want to discuss this with your doctor.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

The information here is also available as a Sepsis Information Guide, which is a downloadable format for easier printing.

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Updated November 3, 2021.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Pneumonia

Vickie M.

Survivor

On January 21 I went to the urgent care with high fever and shortness of breath. I was discharged home and within 5 hours was admitted to ICU and placed on a ventilator for 11 days. I was diagnosed with septic pneumonia, respiratory failure and rhabdomyolysis. (Sepsis and Pneumonia) I was flown to a larger hospital, due to the current Covid pandemic aftercare was not ideal. I was discharged home 40 pounds lighter from muscle wasting, no ability to walk. Eating and drinking has been challenging as nothing smells or tastes the same. I am struggling to return to my ... Read Full Story

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Teresa Juhl

Survivor, Tribute

My Name is Paul Juhl, I lost my wife of 26 years in October. She was my best friend, my soulmate, my everything. On Saturday she came home from work early said she wasn’t feeling well, she was going to lay down. We didn’t think anything about it we all had been sick that week. On Sunday her condition was worsening so I took to the hospital. And they took her straight back. Her oxygen was 71 and she was freezing but sweating. They placed her on a bi pap machine to try to improve her breathing. They didn’t do ... Read Full Story

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Seàn “LIL RED” Hughes

Survivor, Tribute, Bug's Angels, Tribute

Seàn was an up and coming Rap Artist. He loved to entertain. He preformed at The Aviva Stadium, The National Concert Hall & The Helix to name just a few. Seàn’s stage name is LIL RED. Seàn had no underlying health issues. He was a fit and healthy young man. Seàn passed away from SEPSIS on the 12th of January 2018. He was 15 years old when sepsis stole his life. Seàn will never ever be forgotten ❤ Read Full Story

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Lore A.

Survivor, Tribute, Bug's Angels, Tribute, Survivor

After receiving some shocking news, my body collapsed due to a really bad case of anemia. Two blood transfusions led to lung failure and pneumonia and pneumonia then led to sepsis. (Sepsis and Pneumonia) I still remember feeling the worst pain and saying my partner’s name over and over again and “please don’t let me die. I just turned 34 please not yet, not like this.” The experience has been one of the hardest things I have ever gone through and I know not a day will go by that I won’t think of it in some way. One day ... Read Full Story

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John Rauscher

Survivor, Tribute, Bug's Angels, Tribute, Survivor, Tribute

On June 14, 2021, my husband John became ill from what we suspected to be food poisoning from raw oysters he had consumed the night before. He was sick to his stomach for about 5 days. On the 6th day he complained of shoulder pain, but assumed he slept on it wrong. A couple days later, the other shoulder and knees started to hurt and he started to swell in his feet. After 24 hours of pain and reverting to a walker for help with mobility, we called 911 and had him taken to the ER. After 4 hours of ... Read Full Story

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Pneumonia

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, including pneumonia. Pneumonia can be community-acquired, meaning that a person becomes ill with pneumonia outside of the hospital. Pneumonia can also be caused by a healthcare-associated infection (HAI), which affect 1.7 million hospitalizations in the United States every year. An HAI is an infection contracted by people while the hospital for a different reason, such as surgery or treatment for another illness.