A new study has revealed that around 20% of deaths globally are due to sepsis, confirming that the actual rates are double those previously estimated.

The study, which is the most comprehensive to date on the “staggering incidence” of the deadly disease, is also the first to produce data according to age, sex, location, and the underlying cause of sepsis.

The data showed that there were 48.9 million cases of sepsis in 2017, resulting in as many as 11 million deaths worldwide. This is a complete contrast to previously estimated figures, which stated that the most recent global estimate of sepsis cases was 19.4 million, with 5.3 million sepsis-related deaths overall. The previous study, however, was based on data from hospitalised adults in seven high-income countries, whereas the new figures “included data from low- and middle-income countries,” explained Professor Dr Konrad Reinhart, co-author of the paper.

Dr Reinhart went on to say that the “highest burden of sepsis is in locations the least equipped to prevent, identify, treat or care for sepsis survivors, many of whom have long term health consequences.”

The new study investigated 109 million death records and related to 282 underlying causes of sepsis between the years 1990 to 2017, including 195 countries and territories, applying estimates for age, sex, location, cause of illness, and the year.

85% of the sepsis cases worldwide in 2017 occurred in low or low middle-income countries, attributing to why the previous figures were so inaccurate.

The worrying findings highlight an “urgent need for action, particularly in the regions hardest hit, and among the most vulnerable populations, such as newborns, children and the elderly,” said co-author Dr. Niranjan “Tex” Kissoon, vice-president of the Global Sepsis Alliance.

He continued: “There are a number of cost-effective measures that can be implemented such as adequate hand-washing practices, proper sanitation in hospitals, and better antibiotic stewardship.”

Sepsis, sometimes referred to as ‘blood poisoning’, is the life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to infection results in organ dysfunction or failure. Sepsis is often confused with other conditions in its early stages, with delayed recognition of the signs and symptoms quickly leading to multi-system organ failure and, ultimately, death.