The annual incidences of severe sepsis in several industrialized nations have recently been reported to be 50-100 cases per 100,000 persons. These numbers exceed the estimated rates for other diseases that hold a heightened public awareness, including breast cancer and acquired immune deficiency syndrome. There are also sex and race differences in the incidence of sepsis. Men are more likely than women to develop sepsis, with a mean annual relative risk of 1.28. Nonwhites are nearly twice as likely to develop sepsis as whites. These race and sex disparities in the incidence of sepsis are likely explained by differences in a variety of factors, including the presence of comorbid conditions. For example, chronic alcohol abuse is associated with a persistent fever, delayed resolution of symptoms, increased rates of bacteremia, increased use of intensive care, prolonged duration of hospital stay, and increased cost of hospitalization for infected patients.