What is sepsis?

Know the Risks.  Spot the Signs.  Act Fast.

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 —in your skin, lungs, urinary tract, or somewhere else—triggers a chain reaction throughout your body.  Without timely treatment, sepsis can rapidly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

Sepsis is a complication of an infection that can be contagious, but sepsis is not itself contagious. Most sepsis is caused by bacterial infections, but it can be a complication of other infections, including viral infections, such as COVID-19 or influenza.

Animation on how sepsis happens.


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What causes sepsis?

When germs get into a person’s body, they can cause an infection. If that infection isn’t stopped, it can cause sepsis.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection can lead to sepsis. Some people are at higher risk:

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Adults 65 or older

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People with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer, and kidney disease

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People with weakened immune systems

Sepsis Survivor

Sepsis survivors

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Children younger than one

What are the signs & symptoms?

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

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High heart rate or low blood pressure

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Confusion or disorientation

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Extreme pain or discomfort

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Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold

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Shortness of breath

CDC Sepsis Sweat Droplets

Clammy or sweaty skin

I think I might have sepsis. What should I do?

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.

If you have a medical emergency call 911. If you have or think you might have sepsis, notify the operator. If you are concerned that you may have COVID-19, inform the operator of this as well. If possible, put on a mask before medical help arrives.

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