Sepsis is a complication caused by the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection. It can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. Sepsis requires rapid intervention. It begins outside of the hospital for nearly 80 percent of patients. According to a report released August 23, 2016, by the CDC, about seven in ten patients with sepsis had used health care services recently or had chronic diseases that required frequent medical care. These represent opportunities for healthcare providers to prevent, recognize, and treat sepsis long before it can cause life-threatening illness or death.
"When sepsis occurs, it should be treated as a medical emergency," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Doctors and nurses can prevent sepsis and also the devastating effects of sepsis, and patients and families can watch for sepsis and ask, ‘could this be sepsis?’"
Certain people with an infection are more likely to get sepsis, including people age 65 years or older, infants less than one year old, people who have weakened immune systems, and people who have chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes). While much less common, even healthy children and adults can develop sepsis from an infection, especially when not recognized early. The signs and symptoms of sepsis include: shivering, fever, or feeling very cold; extreme pain or discomfort; clammy or sweaty skin; confusion or disorientation; shortness of breath and a high heart rate.
According to the CDC report, infections of the lung, urinary tract, skin, and gut most often led to sepsis. In most cases, the germ that caused the infection leading to sepsis was not identified. When identified, the most common germs leading to sepsis were Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and some types of Streptococcus.
Health care providers play a critical role in protecting patients from infections that can lead to sepsis and recognizing sepsis early. Health care providers can follow infection control requirements (such as handwashing), ensure patients get recommended vaccines (e.g., flu and pneumococcal), and know the signs and symptoms to identify and treat patients earlier.
They can stress the need to prevent infections, manage chronic conditions, and, if an infection is not improving, promptly seek care. If sepsis is suspected, order tests to help determine if an infection is present, where it is, and what caused it. Start antibiotics and other recommended medical care immediately. Check patient progress frequently. Reassess antibiotic therapy 24-48 hours or sooner to change therapy as needed. Determine whether the type of antibiotics, dose, and duration are correct.
The CDC is working on five key areas related to sepsis. These include increasing sepsis awareness by engaging clinical professional organizations and patient advocates, aligning infection prevention, chronic disease management, and appropriate antibiotic use to promote early recognition of sepsis and studying risk factors for sepsis that can guide focused prevention and early recognition. The agency is also developing tracking for sepsis to measure the impact of successful interventions and preventing infections that may lead to sepsis by promoting vaccination programs, chronic disease management, infection prevention, and appropriate antibiotic use.
See the CDC Announcement
See the CDC Report
See also Medical Law Perspectives, June 2016 Report: How Risky Is Going to the Hospital? The Dangers and Liabilities of Healthcare-Associated Infections