The prevalence and causes of sepsis in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 are poorly characterized.
To investigate the prevalence, clinical characteristics, and outcomes of sepsis caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) versus other pathogens in patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
DESIGN SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS
Cross-sectional, retrospective chart review of 200 randomly selected patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at four Massachusetts hospitals between March 2020 and March 2021.
MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES
The presence or absence of sepsis was determined per Sepsis-3 criteria (infection leading to an increase in Sequential Organ Failure Assessment score by ≥ 2 points above baseline). Sepsis episodes were assessed as caused by SARS-CoV-2, other pathogens, or both. Rates of organ dysfunction and in-hospital death were also assessed.
Sepsis was present in 65 of 200 COVID-19 hospitalizations (32.5%), of which 46 of 65 sepsis episodes (70.8%) were due to SARS-CoV-2 alone, 17 of 65 (26.2%) were due to both SARS-CoV-2 and non-SARS-CoV-2 infections, and two of 65 (3.1%) were due to bacterial infection alone. SARS-CoV-2-related organ dysfunction in patients with sepsis occurred a median of 1 day after admission (interquartile range, 0-2 d) and most often presented as respiratory (93.7%), neurologic (46.0%), and/or renal (39.7%) dysfunctions. In-hospital death occurred in 28 of 200 COVID-19 hospitalizations (14.0%), including two of 135 patients without sepsis (1.5%), 16 of 46 patients with sepsis (34.8%) due to SARS-CoV-2 alone, and 10 of 17 patients with sepsis (58.8%) due to both SARS-CoV-2 and bacterial pathogens.
Sepsis occurred in one in three patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and was primarily caused by SARS-CoV-2 itself, although bacterial infection also contributed in a quarter of sepsis cases. Mortality in COVID-19 patients with sepsis was high, especially in patients with mixed SARS-CoV-2 and bacterial sepsis. These findings affirm SARS-CoV-2 as an important cause of sepsis and highlight the need to improve surveillance, recognition, prevention, and treatment of both viral and bacterial sepsis in hospitalized patients with COVID-19.