BACKGROUND: Sepsis is a common cause of death throughout the world. Early treatment improves outcome; however, treatment may be delayed if the patient does not present himself/herself for medical care until late in the disease process. Lack of knowledge about the syndrome may contribute to delay in presenting for medical care. However, we need to acknowledge the complexity of sepsis. General awareness of sepsis by the public may increase political pressure for research funding. Increased public awareness of acute myocardial infarction has contributed to reduced mortality over the last 50 yrs. This example provides a rationale for future efforts to increase the public awareness of sepsis. OBJECTIVE: The survey was designed to gain insight into public perceptions and attitudes regarding sepsis. DESIGN: Prospective, international survey performed using structured telephone interviews. SUBJECTS: A total of 6021 interviewees, 5021 in Europe and 1000 in the United States. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: In Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, France and the United States, a mean of 88% of interviewees had never heard of the term "sepsis". In Germany 53% of people knew the word sepsis. In Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, France, and United States, of people who recognized the term sepsis, 58% did not recognize that sepsis is a leading cause of death. CONCLUSIONS: There is poor public awareness about the existence of a syndrome known as sepsis. Results of this questionnaire underscore the challenges in early management and treatment of infected patients at risk for developing sepsis syndrome.