When Sepsis Strikes

World Sepsis Day observed September 13 aims to increase awareness of deadly cases

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) An infection in the lungs, the abdomen or anywhere in the body is already cause for concern, but things can take a deadly turn if the infection spreads and sepsis strikes. Fortunately, there are steps people can take to help lower their chances of sepsis.

Sepsis is a common cause of death, and is always caused by an infection, usually bacterial. This means that, if infection can be prevented, sepsis can be prevented.

To raise awareness and highlight prevention methods, World Sepsis Day is being recognized around the globe on September 13.

"Take extra care with hygiene while in the hospital."

According to the Global Sepsis Alliance (GSA), the organizers behind the awareness day, sepsis occurs when the body's reaction to an infection begins to damage its own organs and tissues.

"Instead of local inflammation resulting from a local infection, which would be the appropriate response, the body’s entire system goes into inflammation," explained GSA.

This reaction can cause shock, multiple organ failure and death. GSA estimated that between one-third and one-half of sepsis patients die.

GSA reported that sepsis is a particularly important issue in developing countries, where it accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all deaths.

It can be especially dangerous in children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. Six million infants and young children and 100,000 new mothers around the globe die each year from sepsis, said the alliance.

According to the US National Institutes of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), about 750,000 Americans develop sepsis each year, with an estimated 28 to 50 percent of these patients dying as a result.

However, sepsis is not a hopeless situation. If treated timely and effectively, risk of death from sepsis can be reduced by half, GSA reported.

According to NIGMS, these treatments can include antibiotic medicines plus the use of oxygen and intravenous fluids.

Part of the problem is that the signs and symptoms that signal sepsis (like fever, increased pulse or breathing rate, chills and confusion) are fairly unspecific and common to many conditions.

"In children, the signs and symptoms may be subtle, and deterioration rapid," GSA explains. "Sepsis is under-recognized and poorly understood due to confusion about its definition, the lack of documentation of sepsis as a cause of death, inadequate diagnostic tools, and inconsistent application of standardized clinical guidelines to treat sepsis."

In an interview with dailyRx News, Manas Kaushik, MD, ScD, physician leader at Boston Medical Center, noted that sepsis is less common in the US, but still a potentially lethal result of a number of infections. In order to lower the risk of sepsis, Dr. Kaushik recommended a number of steps.

"Flu and Pneumococcus vaccines are strongly recommended for individuals with diabetes, heart disease and chronic lung disease such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), as they are common causes of infection and sepsis," explained Dr. Kaushik.

"If you or your family member is admitted to hospital, ensure that healthcare providers wash hands and consider the risk of infection when putting in IV lines and catheters," Dr. Kaushik told dailyRx.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 12, 2013
Last Updated:
September 13, 2013