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.
  • 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.

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.

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.


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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.

Who is at risk?

Some people are at higher risk for sepsis:

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Adults 65 or older

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People with weakened immune systems

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

People with recent severe illness or hospitalization

People with recent severe illness or hospitalization

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

A medical assessment by a healthcare professional is needed to confirm sepsis.

What should I do if I suspect 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 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 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.

Fast recognition and treatment can increase your chances of survival.

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