Nearly half of the country has never heard of sepsis, even though it’s one of the leading causes of death in U.S. hospitals. Sepsis is a severe inflammatory response to an infection that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death, says Amy Markham, RN, quality coordinator for neurology, sepsis and emergency medicine at Augusta Health.
Although sepsis can occur in anyone, certain populations are more vulnerable to contracting bacterial infections. “We see sepsis more often in the elderly or in people who have poor immune systems,” says David A. Rylak, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Augusta Health. “But sepsis can even affect healthy children and adults.”
Dr. Rylak says the best way to prevent sepsis is through immunizations, regular checkups with your doctor and good hand hygiene.
The sepsis team at Augusta Health
Augusta Health has a comprehensive sepsis team consisting of doctors, pharmacists, nurses, data scientists, phlebotomists and other members of the hospital staff. If a medical professional at Augusta Health suspects a patient has sepsis, an alert will get sent out overhead. “The goal is to rapidly assess patients who might be septic and start antibiotics quickly,” Dr. Rylak says. “We want to intervene quickly to lower mortality.”
In fact, Augusta Health has lowered sepsis mortality drastically in the past two years through its sepsis protocol. The sepsis mortality rate for the first quarter of 2016 was 17.65 percent, which Augusta Health lowered to 4.76 percent by the end of 2017, a rate that is 8 percent lower than the statewide average of 12.7 percent.
This mortality rate drop resulted in 64 lives saved at Augusta Health over two years, Markham says.
Learn about the symptoms
The best way to remember the symptoms associated with sepsis, Markham says, is through the Sepsis Alliance’s “It’s About TIME” acronym:
T: Temperature (higher than 100 or lower than 95)
I: Infection (signs of an infection, like a urinary tract infection or pneumonia)
M: Mental status (confusion, sleepiness or disorientation)
E: Extremely ill (severe pain or discomfort)
Additional symptoms include rapid heart rate and rapid breathing.
There are three different stages of sepsis: generalized sepsis, severe sepsis and septic shock. Most patients who present to the Emergency Department are already in the severe sepsis stage, Markham says.
The most important thing when treating sepsis is early intervention. A patient’s mortality increases by 8 percent with every hour that passes without diagnosis and treatment.
“Sepsis is a medical emergency that needs immediate attention and treatment,” Markham says. “If it goes undetected, it can be deadly. The earlier people get treatment, the better off they will be.”