Sepsis, a life-threatening response to infection, is a common cause of deaths in hospitals, according to a new report.

The study looked at 568 people who had died in hospitals and whose average age was 70. More than half had sepsis, and it was the immediate cause of death for nearly 200 of them; another 100 had sepsis but didn’t die of it. Only 36 of the sepsis deaths might have been prevented with earlier antibiotic treatment or other measures, the researchers determined.

Dr. Chanu Rhee, an infectious disease and critical care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the study’s lead author, said that many hospital patients with sepsis are elderly, frail, suffering from multiple underlying diseases and often terminally ill, and they do not survive even when provided with timely and appropriate care.

“Any preventable death from sepsis is a tragedy,” Dr. Rhee said, “but there is a perception that sepsis deaths are preventable, and this study challenges that perception.” The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Between one million and three million Americans are diagnosed with sepsis each year, and 15 percent to 30 percent of them will die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And though sepsis primarily affects people over 65, children are also susceptible; more than 42,000 children in the United States develop sepsis each year, leading to 4,400 deaths, according to one estimate.

Symptoms of sepsis include chills or fever, extreme pain or discomfort, clammy or sweaty skin, confusion or disorientation, shortness of breath and a high heart rate. If you are concerned a loved one may have sepsis, seek care immediately, and ask the doctor, “Could it be sepsis?”

“My takeaway from this study is that we need to be even more vigilant to catch sepsis earlier in these vulnerable patients,” said Dr. Steven Simpson, medical director of the nonprofit Sepsis Alliance and a professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Kansas. “People with cancer, heart failure, kidney disease and lung disease need to be informed: ‘Sepsis is your No. 1 enemy. These are the signs you need to be looking for.’”

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