Sepsis: what you need to know

UQ researcher and lecturer Professor Jeffrey Lipman answers some commonly asked questions about sepsis.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is essentially a bad infection and can develop from viral, parasitic, bacterial or other infections e.g. fungi.  The most common cause of infection is viral (e.g. ‘flu or measles) . If left untreated, sepsis can lead to organ failure and death.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

Sepsis symptoms are broad and vary depending on where the infection is located in the body. Some signs of infection include feeling ill, sweating, high temperature, sore throat or ears, abdominal pain, pain passing urine, back pain and loin pain. Many infections get better and don’t turn septic, however, if an infection becomes septic it needs to be treated aggressively.  

Who is susceptible to sepsis?

Some people are more susceptible to infection and developing sepsis than others. This includes individuals who have diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, immunosuppression, or have received a transplant. There are also susceptibilities that we don’t yet understand. For example, a group of people could have the same exposure to a virus or bacteria and will react completely differently.

Are infections contagious?

Only airborne infections are contagious. For example SARS is a virus that is spread through the air through exhalation and is extremely infectious. Most common infections aren’t contagious, including urinary tract infections, appendicitis, or infections from cutting yourself on a dirty surface.

What is septic shock?

In medical terms, ‘shock’ means low blood pressure. When you have a really bad case of sepsis this can turn into septic shock if your blood pressure is affected. You can have sepsis without having septic shock, with septic shock being the worst end of the spectrum.

How can we prevent sepsis? 

Preventions for sepsis include, viral immunizations/vaccines (e.g. measles), maintaining good body hygeine - especially by washing your hands regularly, eating well and exercising regularly. 





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