Sepsis: A serious but preventable threat

Sepsis: A serious but preventable threat

by: Dr. Alison Fox-Robichaud 

Sepsis is a widely unknown but life-threatening response to an infection anywhere in the body. As many as one in three people with sepsis die. Because signs and symptoms can vary and often mimic those of other illnesses, sepsis is hard to recognize, but it can be treated if caught early. To improve the chance of recovery, it’s important for individuals and healthcare providers to “suspect sepsis” if related symptoms appear.

Sepsis affects all age groups, but some people are at a higher risk of sepsis. Risk factors for sepsis include:

  • Having an infection (bacterial, fungal, viral or parasitic)
  • Being very young or very old (infants and seniors)
  • Having certain chronic illnesses, like cancer or diabetes
  • Having a compromised immune system

If you think you may be at risk for sepsis, speak with your healthcare provider about how you can minimize your risk. Some preventative measures include:

  • Keeping up-to-date on vaccinations, especially those that help prevent viral infections which may increase your risk of sepsis.
  • Caring for wounds properly to prevent infection, and seeking medical attention immediately if you think a wound has become infected. (Click here for a helpful video on wound care.)
  • Treating infections promptly. There are many different types of infection and several ways to treat them. If you think you may have an infection, speak with your healthcare provider before your condition worsens.
  • Washing your hands, especially if you or someone around you has a weakened immune system, to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases which may lead to sepsis.

See these signs? Think “sepsis”. Two or more of the following symptoms combined may be a sign that an infection is progressing to sepsis:

  • Fever
  • Hypothermia (lower than normal body temperature)
  • Heart rate higher than 90 beats per minute
  • Fast respiratory (breathing) rate
  • Altered mental status (confusion/coma)
  • Edema (swelling)
  • High blood glucose without diabetes
  • Decreased amount of urine
  • Purple/blue discolouration of the knees

If you think you have an infection and notice any of the above symptoms, seek medical attention right away. To learn more about sepsis and how to prevent it, visit


Dr. Alison Fox-Robichaud is a critical care physician and director of medical education at Hamilton Health Sciences.