Get Ahead of Sepsis – Know the Risks. Spot the Signs. Act Fast.

September is Sepsis Awareness Month
Get ahead of sepsis. Know the signs. Spot the facts. Act fast.

Infections can put you or your loved one at risk for a life-threatening condition called sepsis.

Anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection, including COVID-19, can lead to sepsis. In a typical year:

  • At least 1.7 million adults in America develop sepsis.
  • Nearly 270,000 Americans die as a result of sepsis.
  • 1 in 3 patients who dies in a hospital has sepsis.
  • Sepsis, or the infection causing sepsis, starts outside of the hospital in nearly 87% of cases.

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is a life-threatening medical emergency. Sepsis happens when an infection you already have triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Infections that lead to sepsis most often start in the lung, urinary tract, skin, or gastrointestinal tract. Without timely treatment, sepsis can rapidly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

The Get Ahead of Sepsis Educational Effort

It’s important that patients, their loved ones and caregivers, and healthcare professionals think about sepsis as a possibility. Get Ahead of Sepsis reminds patients, their loved ones, and healthcare professionals about the importance of sepsis prevention, early recognition, and appropriate treatment.

Some people are at higher risk for sepsis:

  • Adults 65 or older
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer, and kidney disease
  • People with recent severe illness or hospitalization
  • Sepsis survivors
  • Children younger than one

A patient with sepsis might have one or more of the following signs or symptoms:

  • High heart rate or low blood pressure
  • Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Clammy or sweaty skin

What Can Patients Do?

As a patient, specific steps can be taken to reduce your risk of sepsis, including caused by COVID-19, such as:

  1. Talk to your healthcare professional about steps you can take to prevent infections that can lead to sepsis.  Some steps include taking good care of chronic conditions and getting recommended vaccines.
  2. Practice good hygiene, such as handwashing, and keeping cuts clean and covered until healed.
  3. Know the signs and symptoms of sepsis.
  4. Sepsis is a medical emergency. If you or your loved one has an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse, ACT FAST. Get medical care IMMEDIATELY either in-person, or at minimum, through telehealth services. Ask your healthcare professional, “Could this infection be leading to sepsis?” and if you should go to the emergency room for medical assessment.
Photo of a healthcare worker with a patient with the banner: Could this infection be leading to sepsis?

What Can Healthcare Professionals Do?

Healthcare professionals can:

  • Know their facility’s existing guidance for diagnosing and managing sepsis.
  • Immediately alert the clinician in charge if it is not them.
  • Start antibiotics as soon as possible in addition to other therapies appropriate for the patient. Once the specific cause of sepsis is known, such as a positive test for COVID-19, therapy can be targeted, and empiric broad-spectrum antibiotics might not be needed.
  • Check patient progress frequently. Always remember to prescribe the right antibiotic, at the right dose, for the right duration, and at the right time. Reassess antibiotic therapy to stop or tailor treatment based on the patient’s clinical condition and diagnostic test results as appropriate.

Healthcare professionals’ fast recognition and treatment can increase their patients’ chances of survival.