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Sepsis now a bigger killer than cancer, study suggests

Analysis of global data reveals 11 million sepsis-related deaths in 2017
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Analysis of global data reveals 11 million sepsis-related deaths in 2017

Sepsis is now a bigger killer than cancer, an international study suggests.

Analysis of data from the Global Burden Of Disease Study on sepsis from 1990-2017, which gathered information from 195 countries and territories, shows there were 11 million sepsis-related deaths in 2017.

This equates to almost a fifth (19.7%) of all global deaths that year, and compares with an estimated 9.6 million deaths from cancer in 2017.

However, the data analysis, led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Washington, also shows that overall sepsis incidence and mortality decreased globally between 1990 and 2017.

Study drills down into sepsis data for UK

Analysis of global data reveals 11 million sepsis-related deaths in 2017


Picture: iStock

Sepsis is now a bigger killer than cancer, an international study suggests.

Analysis of data from the Global Burden Of Disease Study on sepsis from 1990-2017, which gathered information from 195 countries and territories, shows there were 11 million sepsis-related deaths in 2017.

This equates to almost a fifth (19.7%) of all global deaths that year, and compares with an estimated 9.6 million deaths from cancer in 2017.

However, the data analysis, led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and University of Washington, also shows that overall sepsis incidence and mortality decreased globally between 1990 and 2017. 

Study drills down into sepsis data for UK

The UK was ranked 132 out of the 195 countries listed by their estimated sepsis-related death rates from highest to lowest, with an estimated 71.8 deaths per 100,000 people.

But the UK performed far worse globally (45th) when it came to total number of estimated sepsis-related deaths in 2017, which the researchers put at 47,860.

They estimated there were 245,783 cases of sepsis in the UK that year.

Spotting the signs of sepsis

Sepsis occurs when a bacterial infection causes the body to attack its own tissue and organs.

Symptoms include an abnormally high or low temperature, fast heart rate and rapid breathing.

Deterioration can be rapid, and, if not detected early, can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

UK Sepsis Trust chief executive Ron Daniels said: ‘There were 195 countries studied; 10 had data good enough to study in depth and the UK wasn’t among them. We would reinforce the call for better use of data, better understanding of the condition.

‘It’s shocking that in a country with the most established national healthcare service in the planet, we can’t get our act in order to give good data to studies such as these.’

Government responds to sepsis data

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘While the number of people diagnosed with severe infections and identified as at risk of sepsis in England has increased, mortality rates are falling.’

The 10 countries with the highest death rates were all in Africa, with the Central African Republic in first place.

The lowest death rates were mostly found in Middle Eastern and high-income countries.


Read the data analysis


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