Sepsis Awareness Month: Why Each Person Matters

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog

Denise Cardo, MD,
Former Director of CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion
National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases
at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Photo of Dr. Denise Cardo
Dr. Denise Cardo

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that affects at least 1.7 million adults in the United States each year and causes nearly 270,000 deaths. This is too many lives. While these numbers represent many preventable deaths, they do not reflect the pain and suffering of families who have lost their loved ones and the loss of quality of life of the ones who survived.

Protecting patients–of all ages and in all settings–and reducing the impact of sepsis is our goal and our responsibility. CDC has a unique role in addressing sepsis by providing the scientific expertise, data, and epidemiology to inform programs, practices, and policies to prevent and address sepsis. CDC continues to learn about the epidemiology of sepsis in adults and children. Because of our data and investigations, we now know that many sepsis cases start outside the hospital and interventions for early recognition and management should be implemented across the spectrum of healthcare and community settings. Large and quality data are critical to assess the problem and implement public health and clinical interventions. More importantly, listening to families who have lost their loved ones and sepsis survivors has taught us that there are many missed steps that should not occur in our healthcare system. Learning from these experiences is critical to CDC’s work. And there is an urgency to address the gaps that lead to sepsis and deaths.

One key way we are raising awareness of sepsis is through the Get Ahead of Sepsis national education effort, which marks its second anniversary this month. Through this effort, CDC continues to emphasize the importance of sepsis early recognition, timely treatment, reassessment of antibiotic needs, and prevention of infections that can lead to sepsis. To reach even more people, Get Ahead of Sepsis educational materials for patients and healthcare professionals are available in both English and Spanish. This Sepsis Awareness Month, CDC is pleased to offer our new Sepsis Quiz, which allows patients to test their sepsis knowledge. We ask you to join us and help spread the word by sharing CDC’s Get Ahead of Sepsis educational resources with a loved one, patient, caregiver, or colleague. It could save a life.

Sepsis is a priority for CDC and across the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As part of value-based transformation initiatives, we are working very closely with our colleagues from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Biomedical Advanced Research & Development Authority, and the Secretary’s Office to identify and develop innovative ways to prevent, recognize, and treat sepsis.

We look forward to continuing to collaborate with our partners, clinicians, researchers, healthcare providers, and government colleagues. We could not do this important work without their support. Special thanks to all the families and sepsis survivors that are working with us to make sure we will act fast and efficiently to prevent sepsis and its consequences. These include those who have lost their lives to sepsis–Emily Aiello, Erin Flatley, Gabby Galbo, Cathy Mae Johnson-Lomnick, Peggy Lillis, Katie Ceschin McQuestion, Nile Moss, Rory Staunton, as well as survivors–Alicia Cole, Angelica Hale, Dana Mirman, Sue Stull, and so many more. They are a major driving force behind the work we do at CDC and have changed the way we work by putting a face on why we do the work we do. We invite you to visit our partners’ websites to learn more about the important work they are doing this month and beyond.

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12 comments on “Sepsis Awareness Month: Why Each Person Matters”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    I survived sepsis. 60 yo F, relatively good health and an ER nurse working four 12 hr shifts per week. Signs and symptoms were atypical, started with bilateral pneumonia, unknown to me, no fever, mild shortness of breath but the most visible sign was extreme fatigue that I excused as a symptom of working hard, long hours and extra shifts in the ER. Luckily, I had a friend staying with me who was also a RN and she called an ambulance. I remember very little but ultimately learned that I was intubated (respiratory failure), administered three different vasopressors (hemodynamically crashing), kidney failure and in a coma for 3 weeks, in ICU for almost 2 months. Eventually a tracheostomy was inserted and I was surviving on a ventilator, an NG feeding tube, central line, countless medications including antibiotics and dialysis. Still comatose, I was not responding to the cocktail of strong antibiotics and was anointed/given last rights by the hospital priest. A conscientious ICU and Pulmonary MD assigned to my case finally insisted on a Bronchoscopic culture while I was still in a coma and discovered three different fungal infections in addition to everything else and immediately began additional treatment for the multi fungal infections upon which I finally began to respond, slowly. I remember none of this however, what I do remember is the increasing confusion upon gradually coming out of the coma, the paralysis, the nursing and nursing support staff who treated my roughly, like a side of beef, the two angelic nurses who took the time to massage my painfully paralyzed arms and legs and the incredibly daunting task of physical and occupational therapy in an effort to regain enough strength to relearn how to feed myself, stand and walk again. I was in the hospital for 5 months and it has taken a year and a half to regain my current degree of independence. Sepsis is no joke, it annihilates your body, can cause severe PTSD, anxiety and depression if you’re fortunate enough to survive it.

    Honestly, doctors don’t know everything and you should always trust your own judgment when it makes sense. So many times we hear about doctors miss treating someone that when you think about it, if used common sense could have save the person.

    Excellent article and thank you CDC for your continued efforts at promoting awareness of sepsis and the toll it takes!

    Awareness regarding various health issues is very important. Life threatening issues like sepsis are increasing day by day. It is essential that people are known to the facts regarding what are the benefits those people require. Really the experiences of survivors is very inspiring for others. Thanks.

    Hi, Great article! So well written -This is very helpful article for everyone. I wish to read more article from you!Thanks for sharing this valuable information!

    It is through early identification of signs and symptoms of sepsis and timely initiation of treatment that will save lives .Thank You CDC for the support and for the availability of resources .A lot of healthcare professionals still needs education about Sepsis.

    I posted the history of my husband on the blog, when sepsis signs are missed. I posted twice by accident. I had to respond to this. Married 35 years, 38 years together. He needed back surgery the end of 2017. Surgery was longer than anticipated, instead of 2 hours closer to 5. A couple of days after surgery in the hospital began to have high fevers, 104+. When the fevers got to 99 he was discharged to the medical rehab hospital for physical therapy. He had a difficult time there for 10 days, low grade fevers off and on, back hurting and confused to the point that they gave him a new diagnosis of early onset dementia. Somehow in those 9 days he developed dementia?? Very confused on the 10th day at rehab. The social worker told me he would need to go to a nursing home to finish his physical therapy because he wasn’t meeting his goals. I was told this on day 7 at rehab. He was at the rehab hospital from 11/8/17 and discharged back to the main medical hospital at 8am on 11/18/17. We found out that sepsis was in his blood and brain which caused the confusion. My husband also had a diagnosis of diabetes on oral medication and he was 66 years old. The operation on his back was called a laminectomy and posterior instrumented fusion which was more complicated once the surgery started. He was never able to come home. Hospitalized from 10/30/17-11/8/17. Sent to rehab medical center 11/8/17-11/18/17 and then sent back to the original medical hospital 11/8/17-2/8/18. The 2/8 discharge date was from the continued care floor. He was discharged to a nursing home to die. I was told that no antibiotic they have used worked on the infection. The infection was called a hospital acquired surgical site infection. The diagnoses listed on his discharge papers to the nursing home was Sepsis,Encephalopathy AND PARAPLEGIA. now where did the diagnosis come from. Well it came from the 3 other surgeries that he had in the same spot in his back as the doctors tried to clean out the surgery site to keep the infection from taking over the hardware in his back. He ended up with a postoperative spinal hematoma. I read on the internet that they are rare so how did he happen to be so lucky to get this rare hematoma and is now paralyzed for the duration of his life. He lived in the nursing home for about 4 and a half months under hospice care with 2 additional hospital admissions for sepsis during those 4 months. I just couldn’t let him suffer so I sent him back to the hospital to stabilize. He passed away 7/14/18, unable to move, was total care and sometimes couldn’t remember who I was.
    I feel like I am beating a dead horse, it’s not going to bring him back and as a Christian I should be dealing with this better. I know where he is, he was a Godley man but I am angry. I am tired of hearing from the medical profession that what happened to him was so unfortunate however it was explained to us that all surgeries carry a risk of infection. Well, we saw the surgery video about this procedure before he had the original surgery and honestly, I never saw anything in the video that would remotely allow me to imagine that this was to be his life. There was a brief statement about the risk of infection but what happen to my husband was ridiculous. Who knew this would happen?? I started receiving the CDC newsletter after he died and there should be a ALARM so loud that it would wake up the dead concerning this topic. There is no outcry for the people that have been diagnosed with Sepsis, it’s a topic that when you go to the hospital for education on your procedure you don’t get educated. What you get is an education on making sure your hands are washed. I was sick to death from hearing from the surgeons and ID doctors that they have never seen anything turn out so badly for a patient as what happened to my husband. I am also ticked at the legal profession because Sepsis that originated from surgery or hospital is not considered a worthwhile case because it would cost too much to try to prove negligence, my husband was 66 and retired so he wasn’t worth much, not the bread winner anymore etc. You name it and I’ve gotten a letter back stating why someone will not take this case. You haven’t even gotten his hospital records but you have already decided that he was not worth it. I also understand that as Christians we should not make a habit of suing people but lets not talk about all medical expense that I am still not dealing with. Medicare I understand wrote off a major part of the expenses because they will not pay for hospital acquired infections. Let’s not discuss the hardship on me because where we had 2 incomes we now have just mine but still have expenses that we both made and I will admit the we weren’t always the brightest bulb in the area of finances however we were ok with our 2 checks. I must seem like a horrible person to still be so hyped up that this took away my husband but I have to believe that there were signs that someone missed concerning his diagnosis. His fevers began during the first several days after the surgery. I have always been told that a fever is your body’s way of fighting infection. He had diabetes, an already funky immune system so why not evaluate him more than you would a 23 year old with no other medical issues. That is not to say that a 23 year old can’t get an infection. The infection was raging in his body and brain less than 20 days after the first surgery. Were there no signs while he was in the rehab hospital that maybe there could have been some measures in place that the infection wouldn’t have been so wide spread. If I am not mistaken he was not given an antibiotic during the 10 days at rehab and their response was that he didn’t have any signs that would indicate there was an infection starting in his body. Then where did the high fevers come from during his 1st 3 days after surgery? No clue of possible infection??? I believe if more attorneys would take on these cases I believe the medical profession would bend over backwards to try to make the system as sterile as possible. Instead of a 3 step precaution may go a bit more and make it a 10 step precaution just as they did when surgeons were leaving items in the bodies of patients they operated on. I sure there was a process to check this. Where are the TV news stations with program concerning this major problem, where is the desire to inform your audience that this could happen to you or someone you love. Where is the outcry that so many people are infected by this and how many deaths occur yearly. There was a song that was on the Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On” album that came out years ago that had a line in it that said something like “make me wanna holler, throw up my hands” He was talking about the inner city. This makes me wanna holler and throw up both my hands. What can we do to sound this alarm and let people know what could happen? How do we handle the medical staff to make them more accountable. This is not a game. Too many people have lost their lives or lived and now are disabled because of this. My husband was worth something.

    Why most Physicians do not know much about Sepsis?

    I had to educate my PCP about Sepsis and she says that if there is no infection found in blood culture, then there is no sepsis. Is this the diagnostic of Sepsis?

    Sepsis is determined mostly by low BP < 100 mm Hg Systolic, high RR and altered state of mind among and organ failure in severe cases.

    Nobody told me that a urinary tract infection (UTI) can kill you in less than a week. I had to learn the hard way. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, after my husband found me shaking like a leaf and too weak to stand. I had ignored the burning sensation I had felt a few days earlier when I urinated, and two days later, when I developed a high fever, I thought it must be the flu. I tried all the next day to reach my doctor, who was out of town. By the fourth day I had become too sick to make sensible decisions for myself. I was already in shock when they moved me from the emergency room to the intensive care unit (ICU). My doctor had returned by then, and she and the medical staff were fighting to save my life.

    I was told that a UTI had spread very rapidly to my bladder, then to my kidneys, then into my bloodstream. It’s called sepsis, a kind of blood poisoning that’s often fatal. I remained in the critical care unit for a week until I was transferred to a recovery unit where I stayed for another week. I was lucky that the hospital was only fifteen minutes from my house and that my doctor returned in the nick of time. I am deeply grateful to Evelyn Jackson, MD and the wonderful ICU nurses at Montgomery General Hospital in Maryland, because without their first rate care, I would not be here to issue this warning: urinary infections can kill you. If you suspect you have one, seek medical help immediately.

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Page last reviewed: April 24, 2024
Page last updated: April 24, 2024