Sepsis: What You Need To Know

Sepsis claims the lives of more people every year than breast cancer, prostate cancer and aids, combined. Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. dies of the deadly condition. If you don't know much about it, you're not alone. Victims and doctors are now speaking out to raise awareness.

Warm memories come flooding back each time Doreen Bettencourt looks through her scrapbook.

"All the pieces I can still capture, even though they're gone I still have them in a book," Bettencourt told Ivanhoe.

They were moments Doreen nearly lost, when a routine surgery to have a cyst removed nearly killed her.

"My whole body was shaking," she said. "Nurses were holding my arm to try to get arterial blood gas out of me."

Doreen's organs were shutting down. She was in septic shock. Nathan Shapiro, MD, MPH, attending physician at the Department of Emergency Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston says the severe inflammatory response can be caused by any infection.

"It can be anywhere," Dr. Shapiro told Ivanhoe. "It can be a skin infection, pneumonia, urinary tract infection. It does not really matter what kind of infection, and this gross amount of inflammation really causes the body to almost turn upon itself."

A sepsis survivor himself, Dr. Shapiro says diagnosing the condition early can mean faster treatments and better outcomes for patients. Warning signs include fever, nausea, an elevated heart rate, confusion and difficulty breathing.

"They could not tell my mother for a whole month if I was going to live or die," Bettencourt said.

Doreen spent 55 days in the hospital, most of them on an IV while she waited for her wound to heal.

"They had to leave me open from hip to hip to heal from the inside out," she said. "You know, the pain I will never forget, the pain that I was in."

Now, she's made a near full recovery and has become a nurse and sepsis advocate, hoping to help others have a chance to make more memories, too.

Every year, severe sepsis strikes more than a million Americans. The survival rate for those in septic shock hovers around 50 percent. Typically, doctors treat the condition with antibiotics, but other therapies, like oxygen, IV fluids, dialysis, mechanical ventilation, or surgery are also used.


BACKGROUND: More than a million Americans suffer from sepsis every year. It's a complication that occurs after advanced infection. Infection-fighting agents in the blood cause the whole body to become inflamed. Severe cases can lead to septic shock, where the inflamed tissue causes blood clots that keep oxygen from getting to vital organs. This can cause organ failure and a deadly drop in blood pressure. Sepsis and septic shock kill one in four people who develop it. Symptoms include a high fever (above 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit) and increased breathing and heart rate. As the illness becomes more severe, the patient may experience chills, problems breathing, patches of discolored skin, and unconsciousness. It's usually diagnosed by a blood test, though it can be diagnosed many other ways depending on the underlying infection. Possible treatments for sepsis include infection-fighting medication, large amounts of IV fluid, and, in some cases, surgery. Those with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly or sick ICU patients, are more at risk to get sepsis.



  • Pneumonia
  • Abdominal infection
  • Kidney infection
  • Bloodstream infection


RECENT RESURGENCE: According to the Mayo Clinic, sepsis has been increasing in the U.S. This may be due to an aging population or drug-resistant bacteria. Cancer treatments, HIV, and transplant drugs may mean that more Americans are living with weakened immune systems. Sepsis is also part of the danger of Ebola. Many Ebola patients die after going into septic shock from the ebolavirus. Because there is no treatment available, one of the primary concerns of physicians treating Ebola patients is to keep the patient from going into septic shock. The first case in North America was seen in September of last year. The man died after developing sepsis.

Copyright © 2020 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.