What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a medical emergency just like a heart attack or stroke. Sepsis is the body's extreme response to an infection. It can be fatal.

Sepsis happens when an infection starts a chain reaction throughout your body. Infections that lead to sepsis can start anywhere in the body. Pay attention to sepsis right away and get treatment as soon as possible. Sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death if not treated quickly.


The best way to prevent sepsis is to avoid infections.

  • Take good care of chronic conditions. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer, or kidney disease.
  • Get vaccinated. Talk with your healthcare provider about which vaccines are right for you. This can depend on your age and other factors. Vaccines can prevent sickness and infections and help you get less sick if you do get an infection. Make sure you are up to date with the vaccines that are recommended for you.
  • Wash your hands. Regular handwashing is one of the best ways to get rid of germs. This helps you stay healthy and stop the spread of germs to others. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds each time you wash.
  • Take care of cuts. Keep cuts clean and covered while they are healing.

Signs & Symptoms of Sepsis

Get medical care right away if you have an infection that is not getting better or is getting worse. This can be a sign of sepsis and a medical emergency. Treating sepsis early is often the difference between life and death.

You might see one or more of the following signs or symptoms when someone has sepsis:

  • High heart rate or low blood pressure
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Fever, shivering, or feeling very cold
  • Shortness of breath
  • Clammy or sweaty skin

Am I at higher risk for sepsis?

Some people are at higher risk for sepsis including:

  • Adults 65 years of age or older
  • Children younger than one year of age
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer, or kidney disease
  • People with recent severe illness or hospitalization
  • People who have had sepsis before

Diagnosis and Treatment


There is no single test to diagnosis sepsis. Health care professionals will look for signs of sepsis. They will look for fever and low blood pressure. They will also look for increased heart rate and difficulty breathing.

Doctors will also do tests to find out if you have sepsis. They will look for signs of infection or organ damage. Tests can also help identify the germ that caused the infection in your body.


Research shows that effective treatment for sepsis includes:

  • Medicine to fight the infection that led to sepsis.
  • Increasing low blood pressure so blood gets to vital organs.
  • Making sure the body is getting enough oxygen.

Sepsis by the Numbers

Sepsis in New York State:

  • Severe sepsis and septic shock impact approximately 65,000 adults and almost 600 children in New York each year
  • In 2018, almost 24% of these adult patients died from sepsis
  • The New York State Department of Health works with hospitals around the state to reduce death from sepsis. From 2015-2019 this work saved more than 16,000 lives.

Sepsis in the United States

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 because 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.