Patty Duke's Death Spotlights Little-Known, Dangerous Condition

Patty Duke's death is throwing the spotlight on a little-known medical killer. The beloved actress succumbed to sepsis.

Read: Oscar-Winning Actress Patty Duke Dead At Age 69

Many celebrities have died due to sepsis or related complications, including Anna Nicole Smith, Jeff Conaway and Jim Henson.

ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser says everyone needs to be aware of the killer condition.

“Sepsis is really a medical emergency,” he told IE. “There are more than a million people each year who develop sepsis and a quarter of them die. Sepsis is a condition where your body is reacting to an overwhelming infection in the blood.”

Duke developed a life-threatening sepsis infection in her body after rupturing her intestine.

Dr Besser said: “If you have a problem with your intestine, if you have any kind of rupturing there, bacteria that are normally inside your intestine can get into your bloodstream.”

Experts warn that sepsis can arise from the simplest cut or scrape. The early symptoms can be low-grade fever or chills, and can be easily mistaken for a minor ailment. And that's what makes it so dangerous.

In one heartbreaking case, 12-year-old Rory Staunton died from sepsis just five days after scraping his elbow playing basketball at his school in Queens, New York.

Friday is the fourth anniversary of his death.

His parents, Ciaran and Orlaith, say they welcome the attention Patty Duke's death is drawing to sepsis.

“I am very relieved that sepsis is being spoken about because 69 years of age is too young for someone to die,” his mom said.

Read: Man Receives Double Hand Transplant

Dr. Besser says spelling out "sepsis" can serve as a reminder of the symptoms to watch out for.

S = shivering or fever.
E = extreme pain or discomfort.
P = pale or discolored skin.
S = sleepy or being difficult to arouse.
I = I feel like I might die.
S = short of breath.

If you have any of those symptoms, you don't want to ignore them. You need to be seen right away

In life, Patty Duke spoke honestly about her history of mental illness. Now, in death, the star is shining a light on sepsis.

To learn more about sepsis and to donate to the Rory Staunton Foundation, click here

Watch: Why Presidential Candidates May Be Getting Sick on the Campaign Trail 

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