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To determine the patient-related costs of care for critically ill patients with severe sepsis or early septic shock.Retrospective, longitudinal, observational study during a 10-month period.Adult general intensive care unit (ICU) in a university hospital located in the United Kingdom.The study population consisted of 213 patients admitted consecutively to the ICU during a 10-month period. Thirty-six patients were identified using standard definitions as having developed sepsis and analyzed by group (according to the day on which sepsis was diagnosed): Group 1 patients were septic at admission to ICU (n = 16); group 2 patients were septic on their second day in the ICU (n = 10); and group 3 patients developed sepsis after their second day in the ICU (n = 10). One hundred and seventy-seven ICU patients without sepsis were used as the comparative group (group 4).None.Patient-related costs of care, length of ICU stay, and ICU and hospital mortality rates were compiled. The median daily costs of care for patients in groups 1, 2, and 3 were $930.74 (interquartile range $851.59-$1,263.96); $814.47 ($650.89-$1,123.06), and $1,079.39 ($705.02-$1,295.96), respectively; these were significantly more than the group 4 patient's daily cost of $750.38 ($644.10-$908.55) (p < .01). The median total cost of treating the group 4 patients was $1,666.87 ($979.71-$2,772.03), significantly less than for the patients with sepsis (p < .01). The difference in total costs of care between the sepsis groups was also significant (p < .05), with a group 1 patient costing $3,801.55 ($1,865.28-$11,676.08), a group 2 patient costing $13,089.17 ($5,792.94-$22,235.18), and a group 3 patient costing $17,962.78 ($13,030.83-$28,546.73). Patients in groups 1, 2, and 3 stayed in the ICU for 3.3 days (1.3-11.3), 16.5 days (8.9-22), and 16.1 days (10.9-9), respectively. Significant differences were found among the three groups (p < 0.05), as well as between the patients with sepsis and those without (p < 0.001), whose median length of stay was 1.9 days (0.9-3.6). The ICU mortality rates were 50% each for groups 1 and 2, 60% for group 3, and 20% for group 4.Only one patient with sepsis and 16 patients without sepsis died in the hospital ward, producing overall mortality rates of 56% for group 1 and 29% for group 4.Patients with severe sepsis or early septic shock had a high mortality rate, spent prolonged periods of time in the ICU, and were significantly more expensive to treat than nonsepsis ICU patients.