At least 1.7 million people develop sepsis each year in the United States–and 350,000 people die from the condition. Despite this, most people know little about the condition–including whether sepsis is contagious. And if you end up with sepsis, the best chance for survival is to seek immediate medical attention, which requires understanding this condition and knowing how it works and its symptoms. Here’s an overview of everything you need to know about sepsis:
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is the body’s extreme and life-threatening response to an infection. The body releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight infection but these substances cause inflammation throughout the body which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
Sepsis ranges from less to more severe. The goal is to identify and treat sepsis in its earliest stage before it becomes more dangerous. As sepsis worsens, blood flow to vital organs, such as brain, heart, and kidneys, becomes impaired leading to organ failure and tissue death. Sepsis can progress rapidly and is always a medical emergency. In the most severe cases, blood pressure drops, multiple organs fail, and the patient can die quickly from septic shock.
Who is at risk for sepsis?
Anyone can develop sepsis, but there are some groups of people that are most at risk. Here are the groups of people that are most likely to develop sepsis.
People with weak immune systems.
If your body has a weakened immune system, you’re more likely to develop sepsis because your body cannot defend itself as well against infections. People with illnesses like diabetes or AIDS are extremely vulnerable to sepsis, as are people who have a weakened immune system due to chemotherapy or steroid medication. It’s important to know, however, that even healthy people can develop sepsis.
Young babies are vulnerable to sepsis because they don’t have fully developed immune systems. If they get an infection, they may develop sepsis if it’s not treated immediately. If a baby shows signs of infection, they should be taken to the hospital and receive antibiotics. This is incredibly important because 6 million children suffer from sepsis each year.
It’s difficult to tell if and when a baby has sepsis because the symptoms are similar to that of a fever, so be extra vigilant if you have a baby who is fighting an infection.
Elderly people & hospitalized patients.
Elderly people, especially those with illnesses like diabetes, have an increased risk of developing sepsis. Hospitalized patients are also at risk of developing sepsis because of infections from things like catheters, surgical wounds, and bedsores.
Others at risk of developing sepsis.
- Transplant recipients and others taking immunosuppressive medications
- People who are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation
- People taking steroids
- People who have burns or severe injuries
- People with infections like pneumonia or meningitis
If you or a loved one fall into any of these categories, you should keep an eye out for sepsis and proactively deal with any infections you have.
What are the symptoms of sepsis?
If you’re dealing with any of the above conditions or are one of the populations at risk, you need to be vigilant about sepsis symptoms. Here are some common symptoms of sepsis:
- An abnormally high or low body temperature
- Chills and severe shaking
- Rapid heartbeats or rapid breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Confusion, disorientation, and agitation
- Infrequent urination (usually because of poor kidney perfusion)
- Pain in the joints of wrists, elbows, back, knees, and ankles
- Pale or mottled skin
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should call 911 and seek emergency medical assistance. If not treated immediately, sepsis can result in death; early treatment of sepsis can greatly improve your chances of survival.
Is sepsis contagious?
No, sepsis itself is not contagious. Sepsis is a medical condition that occurs as a response to an infection, usually a bacterial infection. It is not directly spread from person to person like a contagious disease. However, the underlying infections that can lead to sepsis, such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections, can sometimes be contagious if they are caused by bacteria or viruses that can be transmitted from one person to another.
It’s important to note that while sepsis is not contagious, the infections that can lead to sepsis can be contagious in certain cases. Proper hygiene practices, such as regular handwashing, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding close contact with individuals who have contagious infections, can help prevent the spread of infections and reduce the risk of developing sepsis.
How can sepsis be prevented?
Here are some tips for preventing sepsis:
- Get vaccinated against potential infections like the flu and pneumonia
- Disinfect your scrapes and wounds and keep them clean to prevent infection
- If you have an infection, stay aware of possible sepsis symptoms like fever and chills
By following these prevention tips, you can keep yourself healthy.