We rely upon our immune system to fight infection, but in the case of sepsis it has the opposite effect. When the immune system’s response to infection starts to damage our vital organs and tissues, this is a condition that doctors call sepsis.

Other terms have been used to describe sepsis over the years, including ‘blood poisoning’ and ‘septicaemia’. Whatever you call it, sepsis has always been a deadly illness.

The most common infections that cause sepsis are:

  • An infection of the lungs
  • An infection of the kidneys and bladder
  • Infection of skin, joints and/or bone
  • A problem in your abdomen (puku) like a hole in the bowel
  • An infection that starts in the bloodstream and heart

A quarter of all hospital admissions in New Zealand are caused by infection.

Sepsis complicates a small proportion of these admissions but still accounts for 2% of all hospital admissions.

When one of these infections happens, the immune system reacts by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals attract an army of specialist cells that bombard the infection with poisons. If this initial attack fails to control the infection, or if the infection fights back and starts to spread, the immune response gets more and more active, eventually spiralling out of control to cause “collateral damage” throughout the body.

Seek medical help urgently if you develop any or one of the following:

Slurred speech or confusion

Extreme shivering or muscle pain

Passing no urine (for a day)

Severe breathlessness

It feels like you are going to die

Skin mottled or discoloured

Sepsis can develop quickly and is often very frightening and confusing for patients and their whānau.​

Sepsis affects more than 1 in 100 people every year in NZ.