Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is likely to be responsible for 20% of deaths worldwide. In other words, one in five deaths is caused by this life-threatening condition- killing one million more than cancer annually, according to a new study.

By The Numbers

In a report published this week by The Lancet, new research has found that there were an estimated 48.9 million cases of sepsis globally. Additionally, there were 11 million sepsis-related deaths. These numbers are twice as high as what researchers previously estimated.

To put that in perspective, the World Health Organization reports there were 9.6 million deaths from cancer in 2018, making it the second-highest cause of death in the United States. 

On top of this, the study found that despite the alarmingly high numbers, sepsis deaths have actually declined over the past two decades. It also states that babies and children in poor countries are at the highest risk of infection.

Areas like sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and East Asia are often affected the most:

“We are alarmed to find sepsis deaths are much higher than previously estimated, especially as the condition is both preventable and treatable,” senior author of the study Dr. Mohsen Naghavi, said in a statement.

“We need renewed focus on sepsis prevention among newborns and on tackling antimicrobial resistance, an important driver of the condition.

Sepsis is caused when the body overreacts to an infection. Things like lung infections or UTIs can trigger a chain reaction in the body that causes blood vessels to leak in the body potentially triggering organ failure.

And surprisingly, it’s pretty common in the United States. A study from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 3 in-hospital deaths are caused by sepsis.

Additionally, it costs the U.S. $24 billion annually. While most cases occur in those who are already in poor health, the condition can happen to anyone, even those living in healthy conditions 

For The Future

While sepsis is treatable, treating it in a timely manner is vital.

So what is the solution? Well, to start with its basic public health infrastructure. Vaccines, making sure everyone has access to a toilet and clean drinking water, adequate nutrition for children and maternal health care would address a lot of these cases,” says lead author Kristina E. Rudd, M.D., M.P.H., who also is a UPMC critical care physician.

KRISTINA E. RUDD, M.D., M.P.H.

“Everyone can reduce their odds of developing it by getting the flu shot, and the pneumonia vaccine when appropriate,” Rudd continued.

Beyond that, we need to do a better job preventing hospital-acquired infections and chronic diseases, like diabetes, that makes people more susceptible to infections.