Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is a medical emergency, and unless quickly treated, sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

Sepsis occurs when an infection triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Four types of infections often linked with sepsis are:

  • lungs (pneumonia)
  • kidney (urinary tract infection)
  • skin
  • gut.

The most frequently identified germs that cause infections that develop into sepsis include:

  • Staphylococcus aureus (staph)
  • Escherichia coli (E.coli)
  • some types of Streptococcus

What’s the difference between an infection and sepsis?

An infection occurs when germs enter a person’s body and multiply, causing illness, organ and tissue damage, or disease.

If that infection is allowed to progress, it can cause a life-threatening condition called sepsis.

Almost any infection can lead to sepsis, but certain people are at higher risk: adults aged over 65, people with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, cancer, and kidney disease, people with weakened immune systems and children younger than one.

Neonatal sepsis specifically refers to the presence in a newborn baby of a bacterial blood stream infection (BSI) (such as meningitis, pneumonia, pyelonephritis, or gastroenteritis) in the setting of fever.

Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Burnet’s sepsis work

Burnet is actively involved in sepsis research, with our efforts spearheaded by a project to develop a point-of-care test for neonatal sepsis in a simple lateral flow test format.

This test will identify white blood cell changes that have been well-validated as markers of neonatal sepsis, but have previously required complicated flow cytometry for evaluation.

This technology development, being led by Burnet’s co-Heads of Global Health Diagnostics Development Associate Professor David Anderson and Ms Mary Garcia, will facilitate future manufacture and worldwide distribution of a validated test to reduce death and disability from neonatal sepsis.

It will provide frontline healthcare workers with the ability to provide initial diagnosis and timely, effective treatment for millions of newborns in resource-constrained settings.

It should also improve management of sepsis in adults and in the developed world. Burnet is also involved with sepsis through its flagship Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies (HMHB) collaborative research program, aimed at improving life-saving health care for women and children.

Image: HMHB Principal Investigator Dr Michelle Scoullar.

Current Projects

  • Accelerating access to postnatal care and chlorhexidine in PNG

  • ANCP – Kickstarting antimicrobial resistance responses in PNG (KICK AMR)

  • COMBAT AMR: Mitigating the threat of Antimicrobial Resistance in Pacific Island Countries

  • Development of a point-of-care test for neonatal sepsis