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Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction your body has to an infection.

It can be caused by:

  • bacterial infections - these are the most common cause
  • viral infections
  • fungal infections

Infections and sepsis

An infection can trigger sepsis in any part of the body. The most common sites of infection that lead to sepsis are the lungs, urinary tract and tummy.

Sepsis can affect multiple organs or your whole body.

Usually, your immune system keeps an infection limited to one place. This is known as a localised infection. But if your immune system is weak or if an infection is severe, the inflammation can affect your entire body.

Signs of an infection

Urgent advice: Contact your GP urgently if:

you have any of these symptoms of an infection:

  • temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or higher
  • temperature of under 36 degrees Celsius
  • severe uncontrollable shivering
  • feeling tired (fatigue)
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle and joint pain
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea

Taking paracetamol may lower your temperature, but it will not treat the infection.

Types of infection

Types of infection associated with sepsis include:

  • respiratory tract infection
  • chest infection
  • appendicitis
  • tummy infections - signs include unexplained pain, swelling or pain getting worse when pressed
  • peritonitis - an infection of the tissue that lines the inside of your tummy
  • urinary tract infection - an infection of the bladder, urethra or kidneys
  • genital tract infection - signs include tummy pain, sometimes with smelly discharge
  • cholecystitis - an infection of the gallbladder
  • cholangitis - an infection of the bile ducts
  • skin infections, such as cellulitis - these can be caused by a catheter that's been inserted through the skin to give fluids or medication
  • wound infections - signs include pain, swelling, heat or redness around the wound
  • infections of the brain and nervous system – such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • osteomyelitis - bone infection
  • endocarditis - heart infection
  • blood infections
  • viral infections

Sometimes the infection and source of sepsis cannot be identified.

How to help prevent infection and sepsis

It's not always possible to prevent sepsis.

There are things you can do to help prevent infections that can lead to sepsis.


  • keep up to date with vaccines, particularly for babies, children, people over 65 and pregnant women

  • wash your hands regularly and keep yourself clean

  • clean and care for any wounds

  • follow the instructions when taking antibiotics

  • finish your course of antibiotics, even if you feel better


  • do not ignore symptoms of sepsis

  • do not delay getting medical help if you are feeling unwell

  • do not touch your face, nose and eyes unless your hands have been washed properly

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 3 October 2022
Next review due: 3 October 2025