Annual survey highlights poor awareness of sepsis in the US

A new survey has revealed that, although awareness of sepsis is increasing in the US, there are still very few people who are able to recognize the symptoms of sepsis or understand the importance of seeking urgent medical attention.

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Sepsis is a serious complication of an infection that develops quickly and can cause multiple organ failure and death.

It arises when the body's immune response to an infection starts to damage its own tissues and organs.

Symptoms of sepsis include infection, fever, confusion, elevated heart rate and rapid breathing.

Each year, sepsis affects around  30 million people across the globe, and the incidence is rising by 8% every year.

Unlike other serious infections, such as MRSA, the majority (92%) of cases of sepsis originate in the community rather than in hospital.

A person in the US is diagnosed with sepsis every two minutes. Furthermore, sepsis is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people than prostate cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined.

In addition, sepsis is responsible for an average of 38 amputations each day in the US.

Consequently, the condition is one of the most expensive causes of hospitalization in the US, adding up to more than $27 billion in health care costs each year.

More than three quarters of deaths from sepsis could have been prevented if treatment had been started sooner.

The longer treatment for sepsis is delayed, the higher the risk of mortality.

An online survey conducted in May 2018 questioned over 2,000 adults living in the United States about their knowledge of sepsis.

The results showed that 65% of respondents had heard of sepsis, compared with only 44% in 2015.

However, only 33% considered themselves to be very aware of sepsis. This is in stark contrast to the 72% who were aware of the symptoms of stroke.

It was particularly worrying to discover that only 12% of respondents correctly identified the symptoms of sepsis, and fewer than half knew that infection is a symptom of sepsis.

Only half of respondents strongly agreed that urgent medical attention should be sought on observing signs of sepsis.

Again, this was considerably lower than for stroke, for which almost three-quarters of those questioned agreed that medical help is required rapidly on seeing the signs of stroke.

Sepsis is twice as common as stroke and twice as likely to result in death, yet the general public are considerably better at recognizing the symptoms and taking appropriate action for an individual suffering a stroke than a person with sepsis.

It is reassuring to see that the awareness of sepsis has increased significantly over recent years, from 19% in 2003 to 65% in 2018.

However, over a third of the people surveyed admitted that they did not know the symptoms of sepsis, and only one in ten people identified the symptoms of sepsis correctly.

Thus, although more people have heard of sepsis, the majority would not recognize it and know to seek immediate medical attention.

Despite increased awareness, the symptoms of sepsis are still not well understood. Only 48% of adults surveyed said that an infection is a symptom of sepsis and only 12% could identify the four most common symptoms.”

Jill Gress, Sepsis Alliance Board Member and Survey Coordinator

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