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Sepsis: Save Lives by Knowing the Signs and Symptoms


Sepsis is a medical emergency that kills more than 250,000 Americans a year – one every two minutes – which is more than prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined.

Jamie Roney, DNP, and regional sepsis coordinator for Covenant Health, offers these important tips to help recognize sepsis, as well as ways to prevent it.

Sepsis Statistics

• More than 42,000 children develop severe sepsis each year and 4,400 of these children lose their life, more than from pediatric cancers.

• There is an average of 38 amputations every day in the U.S. due to sepsis.

• Sepsis is a worldwide emergency. More than 26 million people around the globe are affected by sepsis each year; and it is the largest killer of children – more than 5 million each year

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is life-threatening, and without the timely treatment, sepsis can rapidly cause tissue damage, organ failure and death.

Sepsis happens when an infection you already have – in your skin, lungs, urinary tract or somewhere else – triggers a chain reaction throughout your body.

What is the difference between an infection and sepsis?

An INFECTION occurs when germs enter a person’s body and multiply, causing illness, organ and tissue damage, or disease. If that infection isn’t stopped, it can cause a life-threatening condition called SEPSIS.

What causes sepsis?

Four types of infections that are often linked with sepsis are:

  • lungs (pneumonia)
  • kidney (urinary tract infection)
  • skin
  • gut

The most frequently identified germs that cause infections that develop into sepsis include:

  • Staphylococcus aureus (staph)
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli)
  • some types of Streptococcus

There is no one symptom of sepsis but a combination of symptoms. They include:

  • shivering and fever
  • extreme pain
  • accelerated heartbeat
  • sleepiness or being difficult to rouse
  • pale or discolored skin
  • shortness of breath

Recognizing these symptoms is particularly important in people who have recently been ill, had an infection, or have had an invasive procedure, such as an intravenous, a urinary catheter, or even a tattoo or piercing.

Who is at risk?

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

  • Adults 65 or older.
  • People with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer, and kidney disease
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Children younger than one

If you suspect you or someone you know may have sepsis, see a medical professional immediately, call 911, or go to a hospital and say, “I am concerned about sepsis.”

How can I get ahead of sepsis?

  1. Talk to your doctor or nurse about steps you can take to prevent infections. Some steps include taking good care of chronic conditions and getting recommended vaccines.
  2. Know the symptoms of sepsis.
  3. Practice good hygiene, such as handwashing, and keeping cuts clean until healed.
  4. ACT FAST. Get medical care IMMEDIATELY when an infection is not getting better or if it gets worse.

Always remember, sepsis is a medical emergency. Time matters. If you or your loved one suspects sepsis or has an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse, ask your doctor or nurse, “Could this infection be leading to sepsis?”

This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please seek medical advice from your physician for any related medical condition. If you are in need of a primary care doctor, click here to find one in the Covenant Health network.

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