Sepsis (Blood Poisoning)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What causes sepsis?

The majority of cases of sepsis are due to bacterial infections, some are due to fungal infections, and very few are due to other causes of infection or agents that may cause systemic inflammatory response syndrome. The infectious agents, usually bacteria, begin infecting almost any organ location or implanted device (for example, skin, lung [pneumonia], gastrointestinal tract [bacterial penetration or ruptured intestine from trauma], surgical site, intravenous catheter, etc.). The infecting agents or their toxins (or both) then spread directly or indirectly into the bloodstream. This allows them to spread to almost any other organ system. Criteria result as the body tries to counteract the damage done by these blood-borne agents.

Common bacterial causes of sepsis are gram-negative bacilli (for example, E. coli, P. aeruginosa, E. corrodens, and Haemophilus influenzae in neonates). Other bacteria also causing sepsis are S. aureus, Streptococcus species, Enterococcus species and Neisseria; however, there are large numbers of bacterial genera that have been known to cause sepsis. Candida species are some of the most frequent fungi that cause sepsis.

Is sepsis contagious? How long is the incubation and/or contagious period for sepsis?

In general, a person with sepsis can be contagious (for infectious causes like bacteria and fungi, for example), depending on the aggressiveness of the infecting organism, so precautions such as hand washing, sterile gloves, masks, and clothing coverage should be considered depending on the patient's infection source. However, most researchers suggest sepsis itself is not contagious but is a condition that can develop after one of many types of infectious agents invade the bloodstream. An incubation and/or contagious period cannot be assigned to sepsis itself; the particular organisms that may lead to the development of sepsis have their own individual incubation and contagious periods that vary depending on the organism.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/8/2017

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