Sepsis Responsible for 1 in 5 Deaths Worldwide


Sepsis kills more than twice as many people worldwide than previously believed, according to investigators with the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. They came to their conclusion, published in The Lancetafter analyzing more medical data from low- and middle-income countries.

“By using vital statistics and hospital admission data for more than 100 million individuals and by incorporating Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD) 2017 estimates for causes of death and disease for 195 locations, 282 underlying causes, both sexes, and all ages, we have provided more detailed and evidence-based estimates of the cause and burden of sepsis than have been available previously,” the study stated.

The research team calculated that 11 million people died from sepsis in 2017-1 in 5 deaths that year. 

“Furthermore,” the study states, “the difference between these current estimates and previous global estimates was especially striking among children, such that more than half of all sepsis cases worldwide in 2017 occurred among children, many of them neonates.”

Low- and middle-income countries accounted for 85% of cases. Hardest hit regions included sub-Saharan Africa, South, East, and Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific Islands near Australia. 

Even though the number of deaths attributed to sepsis is larger than previously thought, the actual number declined between 1990 to 2017, according to the study. About 60 million people died from sepsis in 1990. 

Sepsis is the body’s immune system overreacting to infection and is the most common cause of death in US hospitals, costing the healthcare system more than $24 billion annually, investigators note. 

“Infection prevention efforts, including those targeting both community-acquired and healthcare-associated infections, can reduce sepsis incidence,” the study states. “Sepsis is treatable, and timely implementation of targeted interventions improves outcomes.” 

Sepsis extends across bacterial, fungal, viral, and parasitic pathogens; it’s the body’s response that’s the killer. The diagnosis need only be suspected, rather than proven, because many cases cannot be proven, investigators said. 

“Since sepsis is presumed to result from underlying infection, it is inherently an intermediate cause of health loss,” the study stated. “In some cases, another condition might contribute to the infection (eg, diabetes mellitus).”

Investigators argue for more robust infection prevention measures among vulnerable groups, such as neonates.


“Although robust data are scarce, many of these cases of sepsis are suspected to be due to nosocomial infections; patients admitted to hospital for non-infectious conditions could be exposed to infection risk either from invasive devices such as central venous or urinary catheters or through inadequate handwashing practices among healthcare workers,” the study concludes.

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