At low concentrations, pro-inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin 1 (IL-1) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) play important roles in the host’s immune defenses. When they circulate systemically in larger amounts, however, the resulting immune response can be life threatening. IL-1 induces vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) and reduces the tight junctions between vascular endothelial cells, leading to widespread edema. As fluids move out of circulation into tissues, blood pressure begins to drop. If left unchecked, the blood pressure can fall below the level necessary to maintain proper kidney and respiratory functions, a condition known as septic shock. In addition, the excessive release of cytokines during the inflammatory response can lead to the formation of blood clots. The loss of blood pressure and occurrence of blood clots can result in multiple organ failure and death.
Bacteria are the most common pathogens associated with the development of sepsis, and septic shock. The most common infection associated with sepsis is bacterial pneumonia, accounting for about half of all cases, followed by intra-abdominal infections and urinary tract infections. Infections associated with superficial wounds, animal bites, and indwelling catheters may also lead to sepsis and septic shock.
These initially minor, localized infections can be caused by a wide range of different bacteria, including Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Pseudomonas, Pasteurella, Acinetobacter, and members of the Enterobacteriaceae. However, if left untreated, infections by these gram-positive and gram-negative pathogens can potentially progress to sepsis, shock, and death.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology