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Posted on 8th March 2018

The second biggest killer in the UK is on the increase and you probably don't even know what it is

  • Sepsis has now overtaken lung cancer in the amount of lives it takes, is getting worse in Western countries, and research shows no one knows how serious it is
  • Despite the fact that sepsis kills over three times as many people as breast cancer in the UK alone, only 20% of people know how deadly it is
  • What's more, 25% of people actually think breast cancer is more deadly

Sepsis, a condition triggered by infection or injury, normally presenting as blood poisoning, now kills an estimated 37,000 people in the UK, overtaking lung cancer, the second biggest cause of death (according to the most recent statistics authored by the NHS).

Globally it kills 8 million people a year, the equivalent of one death every 3.5 seconds.

It is also getting worse in Western countries, with incidences in the US alone doubling in the last ten years.

Yet, despite this, very few people know how deadly it is

Protect your family - find out what the signs of sepsis are

Asked out of the five conditions which was the most deadly, only 20% of 500 participants correctly identified sepsis.

Despite being three times more deadly than breast cancer, 25% of people said that breast cancer was the most deadly condition out of the following choices, when asked "which condition do you think has the highest mortality rate?".

Which condition do you think has the highest mortality rate?

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The answers given show that people under-estimate the deadliness of sepsis and over-estimate the deadliness of other conditions. Globally sepsis kills 8 million, whereas breast cancer kills 522,000 as you can see in these pie charts:

Global Mortality Rates:

Global mortaility ratesView Large

UK Mortality rates:

UK Mortality RatesView Large


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And on top of this, no one knows the signs of sepsis

Only 24% of 500 participants could correctly identify three signs of sepsis. 54% of people mistakenly thought sepsis symptoms were stroke symptoms. 11% said meningitis and 8% said heart attack:

You have severe muscle pain, slurred speech and are producing less urine than normal, which of these illnesses are you most likely to have?

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What's clear, is that sepsis awareness is low despite the fact that people tend to have some familiarity with the term.

When asked "What is sepsis?" 70% of people could identify it as “blood poisoning”. Here are the results:

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Worryingly, it is lack of awareness that lets sepsis develop into the serious condition that is robbing the UK of so many lives.

Sepsis is very treatable – but both the general public and medical professionals are missing the signs

If caught early sepsis can be treated easily with a simple course of antibiotics, but if left untreated it can become very serious and even fatal. At the moment, this happens in NHS hospitals.

Misdiagnosis or missing sepsis altogether is contributing to “excess deaths” from severe infections like sepsis.

13,000 excess deaths according to the NHS could have been avoided had signs been spotted early and different treatment administered.

Sepsis can be hard to spot and this makes knowing the signs all the more important

The NHS has acted upon sepsis figures and is currently implementing best practice standards to ensure staff are prepared for sepsis.

But one of the major challenges in sepsis identification is that it looks like lots of other illnesses and can have broad symptoms. For example, sepsis has many similar symptoms to stroke and is a well-known stroke mimic.

How to spot sepsis:

In the early stages sepsis looks a lot like all sorts of other infections, or simply a mild infection with common symptoms such as a high temperature and shivering.

This makes it all the more important to get informed so you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

The signs of sepsis:

There are three stages to sepsis development:

1. Sepsis involves fever, a high heart rate, fast breathing and evidence of an infection:

2. Severe sepsis includes the following signs:

3. Septic shock is the final, serious stage where all the symptoms of severe sepsis combine with a low blood pressure.

Who gets it?

Sepsis can affect anyone but people over 65 and babies (children under 1) are most susceptible because they have weaker immune systems.

If you have an existing condition, you are also more at risk – according to the American organisation CDC, 90% of adults and 70% of children who have developed sepsis had an existing health condition that put them at risk.

Other groups at risk are:

  • Pregnant women or women who have just given birth
  • Diabetics
  • Those with serious liver disease
  • Those who’ve just had an operation (as they are more at risk of infection)
  • Those on long-term steroids or drugs to treat cancer

How to protect yourself from sepsis:

  • Get vaccinations against infections like flu and pneumonia that can lead to sepsis.
  • Prevent infections by practising good hygiene and cleaning and looking after wounds or scrapes.
  • Be aware of the signs and know that time matters. Remember that sepsis can worsen quickly if untreated.

The data in full VIEW

Survey one:

How would you described the illness "sepsis"?

Download as a table in Excel

Survey two:

Which illness do you think has the highest mortality rate?

Download as a table in Excel

Survey three:

You have severe muscle pain, slurred speech and are producing less urine than normal, which of these illnesses are you most likely to have?

Download as a table in Excel

Sources VIEW

Further Information