What is sepsis and how dangerous is it?

“Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body's response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. It can lead to shock, multiple organ failure, and death, especially if it is not recognized early and treated promptly. Worldwide, Sepsis is still the leading cause of death by infection, despite advances in modern medicine such as vaccines, antibiotics, and improved acute care. Millions of people around the world die of sepsis every year.” Global Sepsis Alliance, 20101

How does sepsis develop?

How do I recognize sepsis?

Early symptoms of sepsis include:

  • Disorientation
  • High or low body temperature
  • Difficult or rapid breathing
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure

These signs are sensitive but unspecific, they can be found in many patients with other diseases, i.e. influenza. If, however, several of these symptoms occur simultaneously, medical assistance (emergency physician, A&E) is urgently required. Starting an effective treatment early can decrease mortality by 50 %.


In Germany alone about 280,000 people develop sepsis every year, with a tendency of increasing (2007-2013 by about 6% per year on average2). Almost 70,000 die from the consequences of sepsis. In severe sepsis, the mortality is approximately 50%. Therefore, sepsis is the third most frequent cause of death in hospitals.

Sepsis can affect everybody. There is an increasedrisk for newborns and elderly people as well as for patients with chronic diseases or after surgery. Nevertheless, healthy people can also develop sepsis,e.g. if burn wounds or injuries become infected. The number of sepsis cases increases linearly from the age of 402.

Risk factors

Detailed information about sepsis, i.e. prevention, diagnosis, consequences and reports from sepsis patients or relatives, can be found on the websites of Deutschen Sepsis-Hilfe e.V. (in German only) or of the World Sepsis Day initiative.

1 The Global Sepsis Alliance (GSA, Chairman Prof. K. Reinhart, former member of the board of the ZIK Septomics) is an organisation representing more than 1,000,000 doctors and nurses in over 70 countries. In 2010, the GSA conceptualised this sepsis definition for the public. It is the basis for the development of national sepsis agendas worldwide.

2Fleischmann C, Thomas–Rueddel DO, Hartmann M, Hartog CS, Welte T, Heublein S, Dennler U, Reinhart K: Hospital incidence and mortality rates of sepsis—an analysis of Hospital episode (DRG) statistics in Germany from 2007 to 2013. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2016; 113: 159–66.