This rather mysterious disease-related killer is responsible for taking over 258,000 American lives each year and the ninth-leading cause of disease-related deaths in the country.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sepsis was the single most expensive reason for hospitalizations in 2009, according to a report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, accounting for nearly $15.4 billion in hospital costs.
It was also the primary or secondary cause of 1.6 million hospitalizations in 2009, which was over double related hospitalizations in 1993.
Even with all these ominous credentials, only 47 percent of Americans were aware of sepsis in an online survey of 2,000 participants in 2015. On the contrary, 86 percent knew about Ebola and 76 percent knew about malaria, which are both rarer in the United States than sepsis.
Sepsis is caused by the body’s over-reaction to infection – whether viral, bacterial or fungal – that can lead to systemic organ failure, and even death. People with compromised immune systems, the very young or old, those with chronic disease such as AIDS, cancer or diabetes are especially susceptible to sepsis. Sepsis may develop from minor scrapes or wounds or burns that are not cleaned or treated properly.
Sepsis claimed headlines as the cause of death of Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke, who died of sepsis from a ruptured intestine. It also took the life of Muppet’s genius Jim Henson.
Thomas Heymann, executive director of the Sepsis Alliance, said such an announcement helps advance the sepsis awareness movement. “The fact that they said Patty Duke’s cause of death was sepsis is relatively new. It very often would have been left as a complication of surgery or an infection, but it’s not a complication – it’s sepsis.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states there is no single sign or symptom of sepsis. Rather, it is a combination of symptoms that can include diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat, etc. It offers this acronym to aid in detection:
S – Shivering, fever, or very cold
E – Extreme pain or general discomfort (“worst ever”)
P – Pale or discolored skin
S – Sleepy, difficult to wake up, confused.
I – “I feel like I might die”
S – Short of breath
Doctors usually treat people with sepsis in a hospital as soon as possible. They use antibiotics to treat the infection, keep the vital organs working and prevent a drop in blood pressure. Some patients may receive oxygen and intravenous fluids to normalize blood oxygen levels and blood pressure. Some patients may require assistance breathing with a machine or kidney dialysis. Surgery may be required to remove tissue damaged by the infection.
The CDC and the Sepsis Alliance encourage recommend three steps to prevent sepsis:
- Get vaccinated against flu, pneumonia or any other infections that could lead to sepsis.
- Prevent infections that can lead to sepsis by cleaning scrapes and wounds and practicing good hygiene regularly.
- If you have an infection, look for signs like fever, chills, rapid breathing and heartrate, rash, confusion and disorientation.
Dr Craig Coopersmith, professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine and former president of the Society of Critical Care Medicine encourages patients to tell their doctor if they feel they might have sepsis. “If you get sepsis, you have a higher chance of dying than if you have a heart attack, stroke or trauma. There is no question that increasing awareness of sepsis would save lives.”
Join the discussion in the chat room
[flyzoo-embed-chatroom id=’57139e40bb547e0dd0fb4527′ width=’auto’ height=’640px’]