When someone you know is diagnosed with sepsis, it can be scary and you may have lots of questions. More than 1.7 million adults in the U.S. develop sepsis each year.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a medical emergency. It is a medical condition that is the body’s reaction to an infection. Not everyone who has an infection will develop sepsis, but you cannot get sepsis without an infection. Sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and even death.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who has an infection of any kind can get sepsis. Some common examples of infections that may lead to sepsis include lung, urinary, skin and stomach and intestinal infections.

People at a higher risk for developing sepsis are:

  • Age 65 and older.
  • Have chronic diseases such as diabetes, COPD, cancer or kidney disease.
  • Have a weakened immune system.
  • Infants under 1 year old.

What are the signs of sepsis?

Seek treatment right away if you think you may have any infection and develop any of these new symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Extremely rapid heartbeat.
  • Shivering or feeling very cold.
  • Extreme pain or discomfort at the infection site or anywhere in the body.
  • Clammy or sweaty skin.

How is sepsis treated?

Sepsis is a medical emergency and is treated primarily with intravenous antibiotics and fluids, to help target the source of the infection and minimize organ damage.

Does sepsis hurt?

Typically sepsis does not hurt. However, there may be pain from the underlying infection or how the body responds to the sepsis itself. The body reacts by unleashing a series of events that may include swelling, bleeding or blood clots and organ failure.

 Is sepsis contagious?

Sepsis itself is not contagious, but the person’s original infection is. Your best defenses are:

  • Wash your hands well and often.
  • Keep cuts clean and covered.
  • Stay up to date on your vaccinations.
  • Stay away from those who are sick.

Can sepsis be cured?

People can be treated for sepsis and the infection can be cured. Early treatment is better to prevent the possible long-term effects of sepsis, including the risk of lingering organ damage.

Learn more about sepsis.

Maureen Seckel, APRN, ACNS-BC, CCNS, CCRN, FCCM, FCNS, is a critical care clinical nurse specialist and sepsis leader at ChristianaCare.