Educating the Public About Sepsis

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog
Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, Director of Content, Sepsis Alliance
Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, Director of Content, Sepsis Alliance

Author: Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN – Director of Content, Sepsis Alliance

September is Sepsis Awareness Month – 30 days to put a spotlight on a condition that kills more Americans every year than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and AIDS combined. According to this year’s Sepsis Alliance (SA) Annual Awareness survey, knowledge of the word sepsis has risen to 58%, up from 19% 10 years ago. But knowing the word and understanding what it is are not the same thing. Many misconceptions about sepsis remain.

If you ask people what the signs and symptoms of a stroke are, chances are they could tell you at least some of the common ones. But the SA survey showed that less than 1% of respondents could say what the signs and symptoms of sepsis are. In addition, 24% believed that healthy people don’t need to be concerned about infections and 39% said that sepsis was contagious (it’s not).

So, what is sepsis? Sepsis is your body’s toxic over reaction to an infection. Your immune system attacks your body instead of the infection. The infection could be local, like an infected bug bite, a urinary tract infection, or pneumonia. Or it could be systemic, like influenza. All have the potential of triggering sepsis and can lead to death.

It’s not surprising so few people understand sepsis. The word isn’t used.
Frequently when patients die from sepsis, their families are told death was due to complications, perhaps from infection, cancer, or surgery. Death certificates often don’t have sepsis written on them. Many survivors say the word was never used throughout their time in the hospital and often they find out only when reading records or discharge papers.

Sepsis is a bodys responce to infection, preventable and treatable in most cases, number 1 cost of hospitalization in the USThis needs to change. Much like strokes and heart attacks, sepsis has a golden hour. It needs to be recognized and treated as quickly as possible to minimize the chances of organ and tissue damage, or death. But this often doesn’t happen because people aren’t aware of sepsis and they cannot advocate for something they don’t know exists.

What can we do to change this landscape? Education is paramount, not just through Sepsis Awareness Month, but all year long. We can start by using the word when patients are diagnosed with sepsis or are at risk for sepsis. We can encourage and promote public service campaigns to educate the public about how infections can lead to sepsis. We can make a difference by saying the word. Say Sepsis. Save Lives.

More on this topic.

Marijke Vroomen Durning, RN, has many years of experience working with patients and their families. She has been with Sepsis Alliance as their Director of Content since 2010.

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog

5 comments on “Educating the Public About Sepsis”

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    Sepsis is not contagious. Rather, it is the body’s extreme response to an infection. Sepsis happens when an infection you already have —in your skin, lungs, urinary tract, or somewhere else—triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. It’s very important to get medical help immediately if you suspect sepsis.

    In January 2016 my Mother passed away at Southside Regional Hospital in Petersburg Virginia. In the 2 week of December 2015 I took my Mom to the emergency room she wasn’t feeling well they did blood test urinalysis and chest X-rays and told us she was fine that the hospital was for sick people the last week of December I had to call the rescue squad she was taken to the hospital other then not feeling well she could walk and talk 2 days later she was put in ICU by the four day she could no longer get up out of the bed by the second week they were giving her blood transfusions and when I ask what was going on no one would explain or tell me my Mom ask me to find someone to notarize a power of attorney and put me in charge of her medical decisions. On January 17, 2016 with out my concent they gave my Mom two shots and it killed her In the beginning of all of this I ask for her to be transferred to another hospital and they refused told me I could take her. Her death certificate states she died from server sepsis which she got from the hospital.

    Thank you for your question. Jenner first inoculated the boy with matter from a fresh cowpox lesion on the hands and arms of dairymaid Sarah Nelms and approximately 2 months later he again inoculated the boy again but this time with matter from a fresh smallpox lesion. No disease developed and Jenner concluded that protection was complete. This was different from variolation practiced earlier in which fresh material from a smallpox infected patient was inoculated in the nose or skin of non-immune persons and reduced by 10 fold the case fatality rate in these people compared with naturally occurring smallpox; however, the practice was dangerous in that it carried the risk of smallpox itself. An interesting side note is that Jenner himself was variolated at 8 years of age.

    For more information on the smallpox vaccine history, visit our website: You may also find this paper helpful:

    This quote was in recent publication I needed to read:

    “Dr. Edward Jenner inoculated an eight-year- old boy with matter from a fresh smallpox lesion and concluded that protection from the disease was complete. ”

    It was taken from a referenced article in the publication. However I believe it was cowpox material that was rubbed onto the boys skin not smallpox. Am I wrong?

    Sharon Jones

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Page last reviewed: November 23, 2020
Page last updated: November 23, 2020