Coronavirus survivors could be at risk of developing sepsis


One of the biggest killers in the UK is sepsis, with one in five deaths being due to the disease every year (around 48,000 deaths). It can kill at any age and it can happen seemingly without warning; it’s known as the ‘hidden killer’ because it’s so hard to detect.

Now, the UK Sepsis Trust has warned that as many as 20,000 coronavirus survivors could be diagnosed with the deadly illness within a year.

The Trust says on its website: ’As with every major public health crisis, misinformation and fear run rampant. The importance of fact-based information is tantamount. To this end, we would like to provide the following answer to the question of whether COVID-19 can cause sepsis. The answer is a qualified “YES.”’

Evidence from clinical cases of coronavirus suggests that a percentage of Covid-19 infections result in organ failure - meaning that some people go on to develop kidney failure or shock, as well as respiratory failure.

People often develop sepsis following an infection; the body overreacts to whatever virus or bacteria are attacking it and that causes the immune system to turn on itself. Eventually, that leads to tissue damage, organ failure and death. If spotted quick enough, sepsis can be treated with antibiotics before it turns into septic shock and wrecks too much havoc but time really is of the essence.

Even those who have only experienced mild symptoms could be at risk, warns Dr Ron Daniels, founder of the UK Sepsis Trust. As such, we all need to know the early warning signs.

There are six symptoms to watch out for and handily, they spell out SEPSIS:

Slurred speech and confusion

Extreme pain in the joints

Passing no urine in a day

Severe breathlessness

It feels ‘like I’m going to die’

Skin that’s mottled or discoloured

The Trust is keen to point out that breathlessness, cough and fever are common findings in people with Covid-19 so it’s important to understand what severe breathlessness means in the circumstances. Seek help only if you or your loved one is really short of breath at rest, can’t say more than 2-3 words at a time or is starting to develop a bluish discolouration of the lips, fingers or toes.

As well as the potential to be really deadly, the potential spike in sepsis cases could also cost the NHS over £1bn in patient care - a cost that it can ill afford. Coronavirus has already cost the government £123bn. If sepsis is caught early, the NHS could save over £5,000 per patient.

One person dies every three seconds from sepsis, making it a bigger killer than cancer - according to the University of Washington's Global Burden Of Disease Report (GBDR). With more than 16 million confirmed cases in 188 countries, that statistic could become a whole lot more frightening.

Whether you’ve had coronavirus or not, stay vigilant and seek help the moment you or your loved ones begin to feel unwell.

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 29 July 2020
Next review: 29 July 2023