Charlbi Dean's cause of death confirmed: What is bacterial sepsis?

The medical examiner said the South African's tragic passing was an accident.

Actress Charlbi Dean passed away from bacterial sepsis at age 32. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
Actress Charlbi Dean passed away from bacterial sepsis at age 32. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)

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Charlbi Dean's cause of death has been revealed after her sudden passing at the age of 32.

In August, the "Triangle of Sadness" star — whose full name is Charlbi Dean Kreik — died in New York City "from an unexpected and sudden illness," which was not disclosed at the time.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson from the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner told People that the actress died from bacterial sepsis.

The condition "was a complication from asplenia," the absence of a spleen, due to "remote blunt trauma to her torso," the spokesperson said. The South African's passing was determined an accident.

The sepsis was triggered after the model was infected by bacteria known as Capnocytophaga — which is present in the mouths of cats and dogs and can sometimes be found in humans.

While this bacterial infection is rare, people without spleens and with autoimmune issues are more susceptible.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 15: Charlbi Dean attends Netflix's
In August, the "Triangle of Sadness" star suddenly passed away. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

As the medical examiner did not make their full autopsy public, it's unclear if an animal bite or lick was responsible for the "Black Lightning" actress' infection.

Shortly after her passing, Dean's brother Alex Jacobs told Rolling Stone that her death happened after she began experiencing "minor" symptoms. Dean asked her fiancé Luke Volker to take her to the hospital, where she died hours later.

"This happened literally within the span of a day: getting a headache, going to sleep, waking up her boyfriend and saying please take me to the hospital," Jacobs told Rolling Stone.

In 2009, Dean was involved in a "very, very bad car accident" which caused doctors to remove her spleen. She also suffered broken ribs and a broken back.

"[The spleen is] involved in fighting off infections, and that could have had something to do with what happened," Jacobs said. "Her spleen not being there just added on to the reason why she perhaps couldn't fight it off."

Computer illustration of bacteria of different shapes, including cocci and rod-shaped bacteria.
According to Sepsis Canada, sepsis is a "life-threatening illness that is caused by body’s overreaction to an infection." (Photo via Getty Images)

What is bacterial sepsis?

According to Sepsis Canada, sepsis is a "life-threatening illness that is caused by body’s overreaction to an infection already present in the body. This infection can be bacterial, viral, parasitic, or fungal."

Usually, someone's immune system fights off the infection. However, with sepsis, the body triggers a response that causes extreme inflammation and blood clotting — even in previously health organs.

Examples of infections that commonly lead to sepsis include pneumonia, parasites, viruses, influenza and stomach infections. In Dean's case, a bacterial infection caused her sepsis, which is the most common form of the condition.

Without timely treatment, sepsis can quickly lead to organ failure, tissue damage and death.

Sepsis in any form in not contagious, but you can spread infections to other people.

Asian elder man suffering from central chest pain. Chest pain can be caused by heart attack, myocardial infarct or ischemia, myocarditis, pneumonia, oesophagitis, stress, etc,.
Severe breathlessness and muscle pain are some of the warning signs of bacterial sepsis. (Photo via Getty Images)

What are the signs and symptoms of bacterial sepsis?

As per the Canadian Sepsis Foundation, a person with sepsis may have one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

S - Slurred speech or confusion

E - Extreme shivering or muscle pain/fever

P - Passing no urine all day

S - Severe breathlessness

I - It feels like you are going to die

S - Skin mottled or discoloured

Other possible warning signs include clammy or sweaty skin, high heart rate or weak pulse, fever and shivering.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

With urgent medical treatment, most people survive. Treatment usually occurs in an intensive care unit in a hospital with antibiotics and careful monitoring of vital signs and organs.

Doctor applies bandage to preteen girl's arm following an immunization
Getting vaccinated against viral infections is one way to help prevent bacterial sepsis. (Photo via Getty Images)

Who's at risk of developing bacterial sepsis?

While anyone can develop sepsis, certain groups are at a higher risk for the condition.

  • Adults 65 or older

  • People with weak immune systems

  • Individuals who've had their spleens removed

  • People with chronic medical conditions including cancer, lung disease, diabetes and kidney disease

  • Children under the age of one

  • People who have previously survived sepsis

  • Individuals with recent severe illness or hospitalization

How can I prevent sepsis?

There are plenty of ways to reduce your risk of sepsis.

Firstly, you can help prevent infections by taking care of any chronic conditions, getting vaccinated against viral infections (i.e. COVID-19, the flu, chicken pox, etc.), and speaking with a healthcare professional about how to avoid infections that can lead to sepsis.

Additionally, it's vitally important to practice good hygiene by frequently washing your hands and keeping cuts clean and covered until healed.

Moreover, you can help prevent complications from sepsis from recognizing the signs and symptoms of the condition and acting fast if you experience them.

There are other factors that can increase your risk of infection, such as malnutrition, dehydration and lack of sleep. Staying hydrated, following a healthy diet and getting enough sleep helps your immune system function properly.

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