By RHONDA DICKMAN, MSN, RN, CPHQ, Tennessee Center for Patient Safety

On social media sites this month, you may see messages about sepsis. September is national Sepsis Awareness Month. Hospitals, healthcare professionals, sepsis survivors, and concerned family members and friends use this opportunity to tell others about the symptoms and seriousness of sepsis.

Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection. The Sepsis Alliance states that only 55 percent of Americans have heard of sepsis, yet over 1.7 million will be diagnosed with sepsis this year … and 270,000 Americans will die.  

Even healthcare professionals can miss the signs and symptoms.

Consider Judy’s story. Judy Farris is a registered nurse and the Director of Quality at Henry County Medical Center in Paris, Tenn.  One month before her daughter’s wedding in 2013, Judy developed a kidney infection. Although she was treated with an antibiotic, she wasn’t getting better. After a few days of trying to ride it out, she felt so bad she returned to her doctor who sent her immediately to the emergency department. The diagnosis?  Sepsis. Judy spent over a week in the hospital and could have lost her life. Thankfully, she survived and, although very weak, was able to attend her daughter’s wedding.

To help individuals survive sepsis, hospitals have instituted effective processes for early identification and treatment. However, most people wait until they are very ill before seeking help. Sepsis is a medical emergency, and when you notice the symptoms, you should seek medical attention and ask, “Could it be sepsis?”

Sepsis symptoms vary from person to person but typically include fever, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, weakness, pain, and feeling very sick. As sepsis progresses, symptoms can include confusion, lethargy, changes in skin color, decreased urine output, and fainting. Sepsis affects individuals of all ages but is more prevalent in the very young and very old, those with chronic health conditions, and those with compromised immunity.

To avoid sepsis, it is important to seek treatment for infections, follow antibiotic prescriptions carefully, get vaccinations, and practice good hand-washing and personal hygiene. Many of the activities promoted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 help prevent sepsis and other infections, as well. Those eligible for flu and pneumonia vaccinations should receive them, as respiratory infections are one of the leading precursors to sepsis.

You can help spread the word about sepsis now by posting information on social media sites and talking about sepsis with patients, family members, colleagues and friends. The Tennessee Hospital Association’s Sepsis Awareness Month webpage has videos and graphics that can be easily downloaded and shared. Other resources are available at the Sepsis Alliance and the Centers for Disease Control websites. Together we can #StopSepsis.

Rhonda Dickman, MSN, RN, CPHQ, is a clinical quality improvement specialist at the Tennessee Center for Patient Safety, a department of the Tennessee Hospital Association. The TCPS develops and shares hospital and health system best practices to improve quality and patient outcomes across the state. For more information, go to


Sepsis Awareness Month Toolkit

Tennessee Center for Patient Safety

Tennessee Hospital Association