Epidemiology and Immune Pathogenesis of Viral Sepsis

Front Immunol. 2018 Sep 27;9:2147. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.02147. eCollection 2018.


Sepsis is a life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection. Sepsis can be caused by a broad range of pathogens; however, bacterial infections represent the majority of sepsis cases. Up to 42% of sepsis presentations are culture negative, suggesting a non-bacterial cause. Despite this, diagnosis of viral sepsis remains very rare. Almost any virus can cause sepsis in vulnerable patients (e.g., neonates, infants, and other immunosuppressed groups). The prevalence of viral sepsis is not known, nor is there enough information to make an accurate estimate. The initial standard of care for all cases of sepsis, even those that are subsequently proven to be culture negative, is the immediate use of broad-spectrum antibiotics. In the absence of definite diagnostic criteria for viral sepsis, or at least to exclude bacterial sepsis, this inevitably leads to unnecessary antimicrobial use, with associated consequences for antimicrobial resistance, effects on the host microbiome and excess healthcare costs. It is important to understand non-bacterial causes of sepsis so that inappropriate treatment can be minimised, and appropriate treatments can be developed to improve outcomes. In this review, we summarise what is known about viral sepsis, its most common causes, and how the immune responses to severe viral infections can contribute to sepsis. We also discuss strategies to improve our understanding of viral sepsis, and ways we can integrate this new information into effective treatment.

Keywords: dengue virus; epidemiology; herpes simplex virus; human enterovirus; human parechovirus; immune pathogenesis; influenza virus; viral sepsis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Global Burden of Disease*
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host / immunology*
  • Prevalence
  • Viremia / diagnosis
  • Viremia / drug therapy
  • Viremia / epidemiology
  • Viremia / immunology*
  • Viruses / immunology*
  • Viruses / isolation & purification


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antiviral Agents