Why We Need to Shine a Spotlight on Sepsis

By Barbara Connell | September 28, 2017

In the U.S. every two minutes someone dies from sepsis. The Sepsis Alliance says that’s more than prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined. The overwhelming majority of sepsis cases are considered to be community acquired, yet 55 percent of Americans have never heard of the word sepsis. Those that have heard of it believe it is a rare disease and it could never happen to them. The reality is celebrities like Patty Duke and Muhammad Ali died from septic shock. That’s not what’s published though. You tend to hear “they died from complications of…” and that’s why there’s a growing campaign to raise awareness.

Skyrocketing Healthcare Costs

Sepsis can happen to anyone as it’s your body’s toxic, or severe, response to an infection. It is an extreme inflammatory response (swelling) in your body and is frequently caused by a bacterial or viral infection, such as pneumonia or influenza.  It can also be caused by fungal, parasites or other underlying conditions. It is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.1 Just counting acute care in-hospital costs, it is the most expensive in-hospital condition in the U.S., with costs totaling more than $20 billion each year.²

Clinicians Must See the Signs

The Global Sepsis Alliance and the Sepsis Alliance have declared September as Sepsis Awareness Month, their mission year round is to raise community awareness of sepsis as a medical emergency. This awareness is so crucial right now because sepsis is treatable, especially with early recognition and care. The first line of defense for early detection and treatment is the emergency room. Every hospital ER and urgent care center should have a sepsis detection and treatment protocols in place.

Knowing the symptoms and recognizing them early could prevent the body from entering the most severe form of sepsis, septic shock, and could save a life.³ This moniker can help you to remember the symptoms:

S – Shiver, fever, or very cold

E – Extreme pain or general discomfort (“worst ever”)

P – Pale or discolored skin

S – Sleepy, difficult to rouse, confused

I – “I feel like I might die:”

S – Short of breath

Sepsis awareness and education is not just for those people outside of healthcare. Healthcare workers who deal with septic patients on a frequent basis must also be aware of the signs and symptoms. Early signs of sepsis are often very subtle and may look like the flu or a viral infection. It’s important for everyone to understand what to watch for, just like with stroke or a heart attack. They need to understand a combination of these symptoms, especially if you recently had a cut, scrape, surgery, dental procedure or any type of illness or invasive procedure, it’s ok to say the words, “I am concerned about sepsis.”

We can help with solutions grounded in best practices to help your team in fighting and preventing infections for patients who are higher risk.


1. Torio CM, Andrews RM, National Inpatient Hospital Costs: The Most Expensive Conditions by Payer, 2011. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) website. https://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb160.jsp Accessed August 18, 2017.

2. Elixhauser A, Friedman, B, Stranges E, Septicemia in U.S. Hospitals, 2009. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) website. https://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb122.jsp. Accessed August 18, 2017.

3. The Sepsis Alliance website. http://www.sepsis.org/faq/ . Accessed August 23, 2017.

Categories: Expert Views, Healthcare Segment News, Infection Prevention

Barbara Connell

Director of Medical Affairs

Barbara Connell has over 20 years’ experience as a medical technologist working specifically in the areas of microbiology, hematology and blood banking. Connell also has 15 years of experience in the IVD laboratory diagnostics business.

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