Recently, actress Whoopi Goldberg almost died from a complication from pneumonia called sepsis. What is sepsis? It is a life-threatening condition (previously referred to as "septicemia" or "blood poisoning") caused by an infection, where the body's immune system causes damage to its own tissue and organs as well as causing insufficient blood flow. Usually the infection is caused by  bacteria although viruses and fungi have also been implicated. The more common infections leading to sepsis are caused by pneumonia, blood stream infections, urinary tract infections and infections of the digestive tract.

Those at risk of sepsis include the elderly, the very young, people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, lung and kidney disease, a lowered immune system, use of an invasive device such as an IV catheter, or having been previously treated with antibiotics or steroids. Major trauma or severe burns have also been implicated.

Symptoms of sepsis commonly include fever, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, and confusion. Sepsis can lead to septic shock which can cause the body's circulatory system to fail causing death.

Treatment of sepsis involves the vigorous use of intravenous fluids and antibiotics. Medications to raise the blood pressure are given when fluid replacement is insufficient. Treatment is usually provided in the intensive care unit.

There are roughly 1 million cases of sepsis every year in the United States. It is more common in males than females. The risk of death from sepsis is 30%, from severe sepsis 50% and 80% from septic shock.

So, to Whoopi and others who have survived sepsis, congratulations.

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