September 23, 2020

Department of Health: Pennsylvanians Must Know Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis, a Life-Threatening Blood Infection Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Harrisburg, PA – Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine today urged an increased awareness about sepsis, a serious infection that is the most common complication observed in severe cases of COVID-19 and can lead to life-threatening complications and death.  

“Sepsis was among the most common reasons for hospitalization in the state last year,” Dr. Levine said. “As we have become better at addressing sepsis, we have seen hospitalizations and mortality rates decrease. It is essential that health care providers, public health and loved ones all are aware of the seriousness of sepsis, and what should be done if you think you have this serious infection.” 

Sepsis is a blood infection that attacks the body’s own tissues and organs. It happens when an infection you already have, either in your skin, lungs, urinary tract, or somewhere else, triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. If left untreated, sepsis can quickly lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death. 

Because sepsis can occur after an infection in the lungs, it is the most common complication observed in severe cases of COVID-19. However, a recent survey by the Sepsis Alliance found that only one third of adults know that sepsis is a complication of COVID-19. In addition, significant disparities exist in terms of sepsis awareness, with only 49 percent of black individuals surveyed aware of the meaning of the term, “sepsis.” 

Each year in the United States, approximately 270,000 individuals die of sepsis. Eighty percent of these deaths could be prevented with rapid diagnosis and treatment. Approximately 1.4 million people in the United States survive sepsis each year. 

Pennsylvania’s medical professionals continue to battle sepsis through several different methods, including early detection; best practices; new initiatives; comprehensive education; and defined data and analytics. 

“Even though we are making progress in battling sepsis, there is still a lot of work to be done,” Dr. Levine said. “We are continuously working to find ways to increase awareness and treatment of this disease, which is why it is essential that all hospitals have evidence-based protocols in place. We are committed to protecting the health and well-being of all residents by continuing to create a greater public understanding about this disease, while encouraging individuals to advocate for and self-educate about key preventive strategies to combat sepsis.” 

There are four ways to get ahead of sepsis:

  • Prevent infections – talk to your doctor or nurse about the proper steps you can take to prevent infections that can lead to sepsis. It is essential that you take good care of chronic conditions and get the recommended vaccines. 
  • Practice good hygiene – remember to wash your hands and keep cuts clean and covered until they are healed.
  • Know the signs and symptoms – it is imperative that you are aware of the signs and symptoms of sepsis. Signs may include a high heart rate or a fever, shivering or feeling very cold. Symptoms of sepsis may include a combination of feeling confused or disoriented, having shortness of breath, being in extreme pain, or having clammy or sweaty skin. 
  • Act fast – get medical care immediately if you think you have sepsis or have an infection that is not getting better or is getting worse. 

More information on sepsis can be found on the Department of Health’s website at or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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