Actress Tanya Roberts, who is best known for her roles in the James Bond movie “A View to Kill” and the TV shows “Charlie’s Angels” and “That ’70s Show,” has died at the age of 65. Mike Pingel, Roberts’ PR rep, confirmed the news on Monday night and revealed that she died of a urinary tract infection (UTI) that led to sepsis.
“With a heavy heart I can confirm the death of Tanya Roberts last night on January 4, 2021 around 9:30 p.m. PT at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA,” said a statement posted to Roberts’ website. “Her 18-year domestic partner, Lance O’Brien, received the phone call from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center last night at their home confirming her passing.”
Pingel added that Roberts’s cause of death was from a urinary tract infection, which had spread to her kidney, gallbladder, liver and bloodstream.
Roberts’ sudden death at age 65 was unexpected, and her reported cause of death has added to the shock. After all, a UTI, which can affect any part of the urinary tract, including the bladder, urethra, ureters and kidneys, is an extremely common infection. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it occurs in 1 out of 5 women at some point in their lifetime. (Men and children can get them too, although it’s less common in those groups.)
The usual cause of a UTI is bacteria that are normally found in the bowel, like E. coli, says the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Most of the time, the bacteria gets flushed out during urination before it gets to the bladder, but sometimes it causes an infection. If you have a UTI, you’ll probably experience a burning sensation when you pee, and frequent or intense urges to pee (even when you have little urine to pass).
In most cases, a UTI is successfully treated with antibiotics, but a smaller number of people find themselves with a more serious infection. An untreated bladder infection can spread to the kidneys and can even end up in the bloodstream, where it can lead to a condition called bacteremia (the presence of bacteria in the blood), or cause a complication known as sepsis.
Sepsis happens when the body launches an extreme response to an infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a simple infection can trigger a “chain reaction” in the body, and if left untreated, sepsis — “a life-threatening medical emergency” — can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death.
“People don’t die from an uncomplicated UTI,” Dr. Kameelah Phillips, an OB-GYN at Calla Women’s Health in New York City, told TODAY. “People die from … complications of a UTI, which is called sepsis. That’s when the bacteria that cause a bladder infection actually spreads into the bloodstream. And when it spreads into the bloodstream, it can cause what we call multisystem organ failure, and that can lead to death.”
The symptoms of sepsis include fever and chills, shortness of breath, high heart rate or low blood pressure, confusion or disorientation, extreme pain or discomfort and clammy or sweaty skin, per the CDC.
It’s important to remember that what happened to Roberts is “not very common,” as Phillips said, although urinary tract infections may account for up to 40% of the 1.7 million sepsis cases that happen every year. But it’s also wise to be aware of the warning signs of a UTI and seek medical attention if you have any of the symptoms, as early detection is crucial.
Also, prevention is key. Wiping genitals from front to back, staying hydrated, avoiding douches and female deodorants, using a lubricant during sex and changing pads and tampons frequently are all lifestyle changes the Cleveland Clinic recommends for avoiding UTIs.