One in five deaths worldwide is caused by sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, shows the most complete analysis of the condition.
The report estimates that 11 million people a year die of sepsis, more than those who die from cancer.
Researchers at the University of Washington said the “alarming” figures were double previous estimates.
Most cases were in poor and middle-income countries, but even the richest nations are dealing with sepsis.
- The biggest killer you might not know
- How good are hospitals to treat the ‘hidden killer’?
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is also known as the “hidden killer” because it can be very difficult to detect.
It is caused by the immune system that goes into excess. Instead of fighting an infection, it also begins to attack other parts of the body.
Ultimately, it causes organ failure. Even survivors can be left with long-term damage and disability.
Bacteria and viruses that cause diarrheal infections or lung diseases are the main triggers of sepsis.
Why the jump in numbers?
The previous global estimates, which resulted in 19 million cases and 5 million deaths, were based on a handful of Western countries.
This analysis, published in The Lancet and based on medical records from 195 nations, shows that there are 49 million cases a year.
The 11 million deaths from sepsis represent one in five deaths worldwide.
“I have worked in rural Uganda, and sepsis is what we saw every day,” said researcher, assistant professor Kristina Rudd.
“My colleagues who treat patients in the field in low and middle income countries every day have been saying this for years, that sepsis is a major problem.
“So, in a way, I wasn’t so surprised, on the other hand, I didn’t expect it to be twice the previous estimate.”
The good news in this analysis is that cases and deaths have declined since 1990.
The hope is to understand the true scale of the problem that will create awareness and save more lives.
Who is affected?
The vast majority of cases (85%) are in low and middle income countries.
Children were at greater risk with four out of 10 cases in children under five years.
But even in the United Kingdom, sepsis is a challenge. The mortality rate is higher than in countries like Spain, France and Canada.
There are about 48,000 deaths from sepsis in the United Kingdom each year, according to the report.
There has been a great boost within the health service to identify the signs of sepsis more quickly and begin treatment.
What can you do about it?
Reducing the amount of infections can reduce the number of sepsis cases.
For many countries, this means good sanitation, clean water and access to vaccines.
The other challenge is to improve the identification of patients with sepsis to treat them before it is too late.
Early treatment with antibiotics or antivirals to eliminate an infection can make a big difference.
Professor Mohsen Naghavi said: “We are alarmed to discover that deaths from sepsis are much higher than previously estimated, especially because the condition is preventable and treatable.”
“We need a renewed approach in the prevention of sepsis among newborns and in the fight against antimicrobial resistance, an important factor in the disease.”
What are the symptoms of sepsis?
- talk dragged
- extreme chills or muscle pain
- do not urinate in a day
- severe dyspnea
- high heart rate and high or low body temperature
- stained or discolored skin
- a mottled, bluish or pale appearance
- very lethargic or hard to wake up
- abnormally cold to the touch
- breathing very fast
- a rash that does not fade when pressed
- a seizure or seizure
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