Is Sepsis Contagious?

Reviewed on 12/15/2020

What Is Sepsis?

Sepsis itself is not contagious, but the infections that can lead to sepsis can be contagious. However, the germs that can lead to sepsis don't automatically infect another person with sepsis; the term describes a catastrophic immune system reaction to infection.
Sepsis itself is not contagious, but the infections that can lead to sepsis can be contagious. However, the germs that can lead to sepsis don’t automatically infect another person with sepsis; the term describes a catastrophic immune system reaction to infection.

Sepsis is an extreme and life-threatening response to an infection. Sepsis occurs when an existing infection triggers an immune system overreaction that can quickly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

Sepsis is frequently associated with infections in the:

Untreated sepsis can rapidly lead to a severe condition called septic shock, which is life-threatening. 

What Are Symptoms of Sepsis?

Sepsis is a medical emergency. If you have an infection that does not improve or gets worse, seek medical care IMMEDIATELY and call 911 or go to a hospital’s emergency department.

Symptoms of sepsis may include:

  • Fever or low body temperature 
  • Chills/shivering
  • Rapid breathing 
  • Fast heartbeat 

Symptoms of severe sepsis can include:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Lightheadedness 
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cool clammy or sweaty skin or red flushed skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Urinating much less than usual
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Different types of skin rashes 
    • A lacy, purple rash that usually occurs on the legs, but can also be on the arms
    • Red or purple spots on the skin that usually appears on the chest and legs, but can also occur in other areas
  • Abdominal pain or cramping with severe diarrhea
  • Additional problems with the heart, kidneys, or brain

Symptoms of septic shock include the above symptoms and:

What Causes Sepsis?

Sepsis is caused by an out-of-control immune response to an infection. 

Sepsis is often caused by bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), cellulitis, and colitis. Bacteria that are frequently associated with sepsis include: 

Sepsis can also be caused by viral infections, such as influenza or COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019).

Less commonly, sepsis may occur due to fungal or parasitic infections. 

Individuals at higher risk for developing sepsis from an infection include:

  • Older people
  • Patients who are bedridden
  • Patients staying in a hospital or who have had recent surgery
  • Patients who have catheters or intravenous lines (IVs) in their body
  • Immune compromised patients, such as people with HIV/AIDS or who are receiving cancer chemotherapy

SLIDESHOW

Bacterial Infections 101: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments See Slideshow

Is Sepsis Contagious?

Sepsis itself is not contagious, but the infections that can lead to sepsis can be contagious. However, the germs that can lead to sepsis don’t automatically infect another person with sepsis. They may cause illness, but it is generally when illness is left untreated that infection becomes septic. 

Bacteria and viruses can be transmitted when people:

  • Inhale respiratory droplets released after an infected person coughs or sneezes
  • Touch something with droplets on it and then touch their mouth or nose
  • Share glasses, plates, or utensils with an infected person

How Is Sepsis Diagnosed?

Sepsis is diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination. Tests that may be used to help diagnose sepsis include: 

What Is the Treatment for Sepsis?

Sepsis is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that is usually treated in the hospital.

Treatment for sepsis and septic shock includes:

  • Intravenous (IV) antibiotics 
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids 
  • Other medicines to treat an underlying condition 
  • Extracorporeal Therapies
    • Continuous renal replacement therapy (a type of dialysis)
    • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO (life support)
  • Medications
    • Corticosteroids 
    • Vasopressors 
  • Oxygen 
  • Kidney dialysis (renal replacement therapy) 
  • Mechanical ventilation 
  • Nasogastric Tube 
  • Surgery
    • For example, for severe skin infection, the infected areas may need to be surgically removed
  • Blood transfusion, in cases of severe septic shock (rare)

How Do You Prevent Sepsis?

It may be possible to prevent sepsis by preventing infection and by promptly treating infections.  

  • Vaccines can prevent viral infections such as influenza (flu), chicken pox, tetanus, and polio
  • Properly care for wounds: clean all wounds promptly and thoroughly 
  • Take antibiotics if prescribed to treat bacterial infections
    • Take the entire prescribed course of medication, even if you feel better before it’s finished
  • Antiviral medications may be indicated for some viral infections
  • Treat fungal and parasitic infections with specific medications as prescribed 
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds

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Reviewed on 12/15/2020
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/sepsis-in-adults-the-basics

https://www.cdc.gov/sepsis/index.html

https://www.sepsis.org/