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Sepsis is a life-threatening illness caused by your body’s response to an infection. Your immune system protects you from many illnesses and infections, but it’s also possible for it to go into overdrive in response to an infection. Sepsis develops when the chemicals the immune system releases into the bloodstream to fight an infection cause inflammation throughout the entire body instead. Severe cases of sepsis can lead to septic shock, which is a medical emergency. There are more than 1.5 million cases of sepsis each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source. This type of infection kills more than 250,000 Americans a year.

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There are three stages of sepsis: sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. Sepsis can happen while you’re still in the hospital recovering from a procedure, but this isn’t always the case. It’s important to seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the below symptoms. The earlier you seek treatment, the greater your chances of survival.

Symptoms of sepsis include:

  • fever above 101ºF (38ºC) or a temperature below 96.8ºF (36ºC)

  • heart rate higher than 90 beats per minute

  • breathing rate higher than 20 breaths per minute

  • probable or confirmed infection

You must have two of these symptoms before a doctor can diagnose sepsis.

Severe sepsis

Severe sepsis occurs when there’s organ failure. You must have one or more of the following signs to be diagnosed with severe sepsis:

Septic shock

Symptoms of septic shock include the symptoms of severe sepsis, plus a very low blood pressure.

The serious effects of sepsis

Although sepsis is potentially life-threatening, the illness ranges from mild to severe. There’s a higher rate of recovery in mild cases. Septic shock has close to a 50 percent mortality rate, according to the Mayo Clinic. Having a case of severe sepsis increases your risk of a future infection. Severe sepsis or septic shock can also cause complications. Small blood clots can form throughout your body. These clots block the flow of blood and oxygen to vital organs and other parts of your body. This increases the risk of organ failure and tissue death (gangrene).

How to reduce the risk of sepsis:

  • Get regular vaccinations against viral infections, such as flupneumoniachickenpoxHIV, and other infections that could potentially lead to sepsis.

  • Practice good hygiene, such as bathing and changing clothes regularly. Washing the hands frequently, especially after handling food, touching pets, and using bathroom facilities, is another way to keep infection at bay.

  • Care for and clean any open or gaping wounds. Wear disposable gloves, and rinse wounds with clean, soap-free water to clear out debris or dirt. Cover the wound to protect it, and see a doctor if the wound does not close or might still contain dirt.

  • Look out for signs of infection, such as fever, chills, rapid breathing, rash, or confusion.

  • For any bacterial infections, follow the doctor’s advice on how to take the antibiotics and finish the whole course of treatment. Store the medicine according to the packaging instructions.

  • Treat fungal and parasitic infections as soon as symptoms appear, and use medication specific to the particular fungus or parasite.

  • Control diabetes, if relevant.

  • Avoid smoking

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