Survey Reveals Majority of Americans Have Never Heard of Sepsis

Sepsis kills 258,000 people every year in the United States, more than prostate cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer combined. Yet, according to a new poll commissioned by a leading patient advocacy group, fewer than half of all Americans have even heard of it.

Sepsis Alliance commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct online and telephone polling in June, 2012. Among 2,203 adults surveyed online, only 40 percent acknowledged that they had even heard of the term sepsis. That means that 3 out of every 5 Americans are unsure what sepsis is, or have even heard of one of the deadliest killers in America, said Thomas Heymann, board president of Sepsis Alliance.

Of the 40 percent of individuals that had heard of sepsis, 34 percent were unable to define it, while 51 percent incorrectly defined it as an infection. Only 14 percent of the individuals familiar with the term provided responses classifying it as serious, severe, dangerous, or critical.

Sometimes referred to as blood poisoning, sepsis is the bodys often-deadly response to infection or injury. When recognized early, thousands of lives can be saved by early treatment with fluids and antibiotics.

Several high-profile cases of individuals contracting sepsis have been featured in local and national media this past year. Yet, in Sepsis Alliances 2011 telephone survey of sepsis awareness, sepsis awareness showed at 41 percent.

According to the Sepsis Alliance polling, recognition of sepsis differed significantly by gender. Thirty-five percent of men had heard of sepsis, while 44 percent of women had heard of the disease.

While greater education is needed across all American age groups, this is definitely true among younger adults, says Regina A. Corso, senior vice president of Harris Poll.

Twenty-five percent of Americans age 18-34 had heard of sepsis. This level of sepsis recognition was significantly lower than other ages, including 44 percent for ages 35-44, 45 percent for ages 45-55, and 48 percent for individuals over 55.

As the polling reflects, there is additional progress to be made in increasing public awareness of sepsis. To recognize champions of  sepsis awareness, Sepsis Alliance is hosting its first-ever Sepsis Heroes event next month in New York City. The event is being held  on the World Sepsis Day, which has been declared on Sept. 13, 2012, and will feature individuals and organizations that have made incredible strides in raising awareness of this deadly disease.

Our survey shows that we still have a lot of work to do in educating the public about what sepsis is, how people get it, and how sepsis is treated, says Heymann. This is exactly why we need formal recognition by government of sepsis as not only a killer of thousands of lives, but also as a treatable driver of higher costs in the healthcare system.

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