Sepsis (‘blood poisoning’) is a life-threatening inflammatory reaction of the entire organism to an infection. Because it is increasingly common and associated with a high mortality, sepsis causes a significant death toll all over the world.
First, pathogens cause a local infection, e.g. pneumonia. Normally, the immune system is able to control such a local infection directly at the site of inflammation.
In the case of sepsis the local infection overcomes the body’s defense mechanisms: pathogenic bugs and/or their toxins may spread throughout the entire organism via the vascular and lymphatic system. From that point on every hour counts: The later an individual therapy is initiated the worse the survival chance of the patient is.
The immune system is hyperactivated: immune and tissue cells are activated and react to a multitude of chemical messengers. This leads to further cellular actions. As a result, not only the pathogens are under attack but also the body’s own cells . Finally, the organs cease to function, resulting in multi-organ failure and septic shock.
In most cases, infections of the respiratory tract are the cause for sepsis.
In Germany around 154,000 people per year are diagnosed with sepsis. Nearly 60,000 of them die as a result. Sepsis is one of the three most important causes of death in German hospitals, although only 20 percent of sepsis patients develop the infection there.
Anyone can be affected by sepsis. There is a higher risk for people who are already ill or people with a weakened immune system. Even healthy people can develop sepsis though, e.g. after a burn or an injury, if the wound gets infected.