Deaths from sepsis around the world are twice as high as previously thought, with babies and small children in poorer countries at greatest risk, a major study has revealed.
There were almost 50m sepsis cases worldwide and 11m deaths in 2017, according to US researchers writing in the Lancet medical journal. Sepsis, an overcharged response by the body to infection, is associated with one in five deaths worldwide, they say. By comparison, the World Health Organisation estimated that there were 9.6 million deaths from cancer in 2018.
The new estimates come from an analysis of data in the Global Burden of Disease study run by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle. The leap in numbers comes from an attempt to quantify what is happening in low- and middle-income countries, where there is little data and children are worst affected. “More than half of all sepsis cases worldwide in 2017 occurred among children,” says the paper. Nearly 3 million died; many were under a month old.
“We are alarmed to find sepsis deaths are much higher than previously estimated, especially as the condition is both preventable and treatable,” said Dr Mohsen Naghavi, a senior author on the study and professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute.
He called for more focus on preventing sepsis among newborns through access to vaccines, clean water and other hygiene measures against infection, as well as action to tackle antimicrobial resistance, which he said was “an important driver of the condition”. Many infections are no longer easily treatable because bacteria and viruses have evolved to overpower some antibiotics.
The leading cause of sepsis was diarrhoeal disease and the leading cause of sepsis-related deaths was pneumonia.