UCLA Campus    |   UCLA Health    |   School of Medicine Translate:
UCLA Health It Begins With U

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis can be defined as the body’s response to an infection. An infection is caused by microorganisms or “germs” (usually bacteria) invading the body, and can be limited to a particular body region (eg. open wound) or can be widespread in the bloodstream (often called “septicemia” or “blood poisoning”). Sepsis is a medical emergency just like a heart attack or stroke because there is an interruption of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and vital organs such as the brain, intestines, liver, kidneys and lungs. (Surviving Sepsis Campaign)

At UCLA we place a strong importance on the early recognition and treatment of Sepsis.  We have developed a multidisciplinary team to lead the system-wide implementation of the Sepsis screening tool, which helps identify those patients who show signs of Sepsis, and the four Sepsis bundle elements that are rapidly implemented to treat a patient who has screened positive for Sepsis. 

Sepsis prevention is linked to Infection Prevention.

The Surviving Sepsis Campaign:

The Surviving Sepsis Campaign (SSC) is a global initiative to bring together professional organizations to create an international collaborative to improve the treatment of Sepsis and reduce high mortality rates associated with the condition. The SSC provides leadership and guidelines which were developed to improve the management, diagnosis, and treatment of Sepsis as a quality improvement initiative.  The mission of this campaign is to:

  • Increase awareness, understanding, and knowledge of Sepsis
  • Define standards of care in Severe Sepsis & Septic Shock
  • Change perceptions and behavior
  • Increase the pace of change in patterns of healthcare
  • Influence public policy
  • Reduce Sepsis associated mortality rates by 25% over the next 5 years
  • Working with the relevant stakeholders, the Surviving Sepsis Campaign’s mission is to improve the management of sepsis through targeted initiatives

For more information on the SSC, please visit the Surviving Sepsis Campaign website.

Facts and Myths about Sepsis:


  • Sepsis is a serious medical condition caused by an overwhelming immune response to an infection.  Sepsis is unpredictable and can progress rapidly, possibly leading to death.
  • Anyone can get sepsis, or become septic, but people with weakened immune systems, children, infants and the elderly are most vulnerable.
  • In its early stages, symptoms of Sepsis can often mimic other conditions, such as the flu, and may be somewhat difficult to diagnose.
  • Each year, over 750,000 Americans are affected by Severe Sepsis or Septic Shock.  It’s estimated that between 30-50% of these people will die – far more than the number of U.S. deaths from prostate cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined.


  • Sepsis only affects the elderly patient population or people with pre-existing conditions.


  1. Can anyone get sepsis?
    Yes. No one is immune from sepsis.
  2. Is Sepsis uncommon?
    No.  Sepsis is actually very common; however, most of the time if someone dies due to Sepsis, the cause of death is something more common such as Pneumonia.
  3. If Sepsis is such a serious condition, why have I never heard of sepsis before?
    Sepsis isn’t talked about very often.  The word Sepsis is a technical, medical term used mostly by medical providers.  Many people hear of others dying from infections, such as those associated with “super bugs” such as MRSA.  Often this is actually Sepsis because the organisms, or germs, associated with the cause of infection (MRSA) are unable to be treated timely &/or appropriately.  If the infection isn’t treated properly, it may take over the body causing severe organ failure and eventually death. 
  4. What is the difference between Sepsis and Septic Shock?
    Sepsis is the beginning of the condition, which can lead to severe sepsis and/or septic shock. Sepsis is a response to an inflammatory response in your body caused by an infection, most often bacterial.  Septic shock develops after sepsis has progressed beyond severe sepsis and the body’s organs begin to shut down.
  5. Can Sepsis be prevented?
    Sepsis often occurs as a result of an infection, whether bacterial, viral or fungal, so by treating the infection timely and appropriately, you decrease your chances of developing Sepsis.  To reduce your risk of developing Sepsis you should first reduce your risk of developing an infection by washing your hands, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding others who are sick, and seeking medical advice for an injury or illness that does not seem to be improving appropriately.

Intern/Volunteer Opportunities:

Interested in being an intern or volunteer with our Sepsis Program? Please contact Nicole Falgout, RN-Sepsis Coordinator at 310-794-8107.

For questions, comments, or feedback please submit to:  sepsis@mednet.ucla.edu