The first time Melissa Mead saw the word “sepsis” was in December 2014 on her one-year-old son’s death certificate. Mead, a resident of Cornwall in the United Kingdom, has made a video for Sepsis Awareness Month observed in September that has quickly gone viral. In the video, Mead tells the story of her son William tragic and unnecessary death.

William had a lung infection and pneumonia, which led to the sepsis that killed him. Sepsis is organ dysfunction brought on by an infection and then a disproportionate response by the immune system attacking the body itself. In the video Mead, who is pregnant with her second child, rues the fact that the public health helpline that she called to describe William’s condition missed diagnosing sepsis and the child’s need for urgent care.

She also wonders at the lack of awareness around sepsis given that one person in the world dies of it every 3.5 seconds.


The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States is also trying to get doctors to question more often whether symptoms they see in their patients are those of sepsis.

The New York Times reports that between one million and three million Americans are diagnosed with of sepsis each year, and between 15% to 30% of them die. Children are the worst affected and more than 42,000 children develop sepsis in the US every year and 4,400 die. Half of all hospital deaths have sepsis as at least one of the causes and some studies estimate that it could play a role in 381,000 deaths a year in the US.

In India too, a new study has shown that sepsis accounts for a quarter of all newborn deaths, most deaths occurring within three days of birth. In addition to the high rate of sepsis, resistance to antibiotics is rendering drugs ineffective and contributing to the high mortality rate.

Early symptoms of sepsis are high temperatures, chills and shivering, a quick heart rate and fast breathing. As sepsis gets severe a patient can feel dizzy, experience confusion or disorientation, have nausea, low urine output, and cold and clammy skin.

According to an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association in the past 30 years a great frequency of the occurrence of sepsis, the high costs associated with the disease and a better understanding of the physiological imbalances that lead to cellular break down has led to the need to have better definitions for sepsis. A Sepsis Definitions Task Force came up with the new criteria to recognize sepsis this year. The criteria to detect sepsis is laid out by something called SOFA – the Sepsis-related Organ Failure Assessment.


Before SOFA, doctors relied on a protocol called SIRS or Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome to detect and treat sepsis that included monitoring a patient’s respiratory rate, heart rate, body temperature and white blood cell count. Doctors at the Kern Medical Center in California even took some inspiration from Justin Timberlake to remember the protocol with Bringing Sepsy Back.