The epidemiology of sepsis in the United States from 1979 through 2000

N Engl J Med. 2003 Apr 17;348(16):1546-54. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa022139.


Background: Sepsis represents a substantial health care burden, and there is limited epidemiologic information about the demography of sepsis or about the temporal changes in its incidence and outcome. We investigated the epidemiology of sepsis in the United States, with specific examination of race and sex, causative organisms, the disposition of patients, and the incidence and outcome.

Methods: We analyzed the occurrence of sepsis from 1979 through 2000 using a nationally representative sample of all nonfederal acute care hospitals in the United States. Data on new cases were obtained from hospital discharge records coded according to the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification.

Results: Review of discharge data on approximately 750 million hospitalizations in the United States over the 22-year period identified 10,319,418 cases of sepsis. Sepsis was more common among men than among women (mean annual relative risk, 1.28 [95 percent confidence interval, 1.24 to 1.32]) and among nonwhite persons than among white persons (mean annual relative risk, 1.90 [95 percent confidence interval, 1.81 to 2.00]). Between 1979 and 2000, there was an annualized increase in the incidence of sepsis of 8.7 percent, from about 164,000 cases (82.7 per 100,000 population) to nearly 660,000 cases (240.4 per 100,000 population). The rate of sepsis due to fungal organisms increased by 207 percent, with gram-positive bacteria becoming the predominant pathogens after 1987. The total in-hospital mortality rate fell from 27.8 percent during the period from 1979 through 1984 to 17.9 percent during the period from 1995 through 2000, yet the total number of deaths continued to increase. Mortality was highest among black men. Organ failure contributed cumulatively to mortality, with temporal improvements in survival among patients with fewer than three failing organs. The average length of the hospital stay decreased, and the rate of discharge to nonacute care medical facilities increased.

Conclusions: The incidence of sepsis and the number of sepsis-related deaths are increasing, although the overall mortality rate among patients with sepsis is declining. There are also disparities among races and between men and women in the incidence of sepsis. Gram-positive bacteria and fungal organisms are increasingly common causes of sepsis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Hospital Mortality / trends
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Organ Failure / epidemiology
  • Racial Groups
  • Sepsis / epidemiology*
  • Sepsis / ethnology
  • Sepsis / microbiology
  • Sepsis / mortality
  • Sex Factors
  • Survival Rate
  • United States / epidemiology