What is 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.
  • At least 350,000 adults who develop sepsis die during their hospitalization or are discharged to hospice.
  • 1 in 3 people who dies in a hospital had sepsis during that hospitalization

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. Most cases of sepsis start before a patient goes to the hospital. 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.

Is sepsis contagious?

You can’t spread sepsis to other people. However, an infection can lead to sepsis, and you can spread some infections to other people.

Animation on how sepsis happens.


Sepsis happens when…

Transcript: Sepsis happens when [TXT 1 1 KB]

What causes sepsis?

Infections can put you or your loved one at risk for sepsis. When germs get into a person’s body, they can cause an infection. If you don’t stop that infection, it can cause sepsis. Bacterial infections cause most cases of sepsis. Sepsis can also be a result of other infections, including viral infections, such as COVID-19 or influenza, or fungal infections. Most people who develop sepsis have at least one underlying medical condition, such as chronic lung disease or a weakened immune system. Nearly a quarter to a third of people with sepsis had a healthcare visit in the week before they were hospitalized.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can develop sepsis, but some people are at higher risk for sepsis:

Icon: 65+

Adults 65 or older

Icon: Weak Immunity

People with weakened immune systems

Icon: Stethoscope

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

Icon: Hospitalization

People with recent severe illness or hospitalization

Sepsis Survivor

People who survived sepsis

Icon: children under 1

Children younger than one

What are the signs & symptoms?

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

Icon: Heart Rate

High heart rate or weak pulse

Icon: Confusion

Confusion or disorientation

Icon: Pain

Extreme pain or discomfort

Icon: Fever

Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold

Icon: Short Breath

Shortness of breath

CDC Sepsis Sweat Droplets

Clammy or sweaty skin

People who might have sepsis should be urgently evaluated and treated by a healthcare professional.

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

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. Ask your healthcare professional, “Could this infection be leading to sepsis?” and if you should go to the emergency room.

If you have a medical emergency, call 911. If you have or think you have sepsis, tell the operator. If you have or think you have COVID-19, tell the operator this as well. If possible, put on a mask before medical help arrives.

With fast recognition and treatment, most people survive.  Treatment requires urgent medical care, usually in an intensive care unit in a hospital, and includes careful monitoring of vital signs and often antibiotics.

Fact Sheet, Brochure, and Conversation Starter (Print Only)