Sepsis Awareness Month: Most adults think opioid overdoses more deadly than sepsis

Sept. 4, 2019
Survey reveals many U.S. adults are more aware of less common and less deadly conditions than they are of sepsis, which takes a life every two minutes.

Timed to coincide with Sepsis Awareness Month, Sepsis Alliance has released the results of its annual Sepsis Awareness Survey, conducted by Radius Global Market Research. The survey revealed that sepsis awareness remains at an all-time high of 65 percent, year over year. However, there still is a significant lack of understanding about the prevalence, severity, and deadliness of sepsis.

“Sepsis is the public health crisis that no one is talking about,” said Thomas Heymann, President and Executive Director, Sepsis Alliance in a public announcement. “Despite the millions of lives sepsis impacts and its immense economic toll, the survey found that the public is much more familiar with conditions, such as stroke and diabetes, which take far fewer lives. This is very concerning.”

Sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection, affects 1.7 million people and takes an estimated 270,000 lives every year in the United States. It takes more lives than opioid overdoses, breast cancer, and prostate cancer combined. Yet, 76 percent of U.S. adults incorrectly believe that more people die of opioid overdoses in one year than from sepsis.

Only 1 percent of adults report having never heard of diabetes and stroke, whereas 22 percent indicated that they had never heard of sepsis. Despite stroke affecting less than half the number of people diagnosed with sepsis each year, the three stroke symptoms listed in the survey were correctly identified by most adults (57 percent). Yet, more than one-third of adults say they do not know the symptoms of sepsis at all, and only 14 percent could correctly identify all the symptoms of sepsis listed in the survey.

Sepsis awareness is further impacted by race and income. The survey found that people who identify as non-Hispanic white are more likely to have heard the word sepsis than those who identify as non-Hispanic black or Hispanic. Additionally, people with incomes of $75,000 or higher are more likely to have heard of sepsis than those with incomes less than $50,000.

The survey also revealed that the majority of adults who are aware of sepsis heard about it through TV (26 percent) or from a friend/loved one (26 percent). Only 13 percent of adults heard about sepsis from their healthcare provider.

“When more people have heard the word sepsis on TV than have heard about it from their own healthcare provider, it is not surprising that they do not truly understand how common and deadly it is,” said Steven Q. Simpson, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Sepsis Alliance. “That is why Sepsis Alliance convenes Sepsis Awareness Month every September to raise sepsis awareness among both the public and providers. We want patients to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of sepsis so they can seek help in time, and we want providers to be able to identify and diagnose sepsis quickly, as well as to educate their patients about sepsis.”

Sepsis: It’s About TIMETM, is a national campaign by Sepsis Alliance to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of sepsis and the urgent need to seek treatment when symptoms are recognized. Key to the campaign is the memory aid TIME, which stands for:

·  T- TEMPERATURE higher or lower than normal

·  I – signs of an INFECTION


·  E – Feeling EXTREMELY ILL.

This Sepsis Awareness Month, Sepsis Alliance is inviting the public, media, and healthcare providers to take the TIME to save lives. To learn more about Sepsis Awareness Month and how to get involved, please visit