Sepsis is a serious medical condition that could lead to immediate death if not treated quickly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health practitioners need to do more to recognize and treat the deadly blood infection.
In a report released on Tuesday, the CDC declared sepsis a “medical emergency.” The agency found nearly 72 percent of patients who visit a doctor for very common illnesses have sepsis as well, but are never diagnosed with the condition.
Many patients who have pneumonia or an infection of the urinary tract, gut, and skin are often affected by sepsis. However, the symptoms of the condition vary, and there is no specific diagnostic test to verify it is present.
“This report is putting a face on sepsis and documenting that it is still a huge problem, and it doesn’t have to be,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said. “Far too many people die from sepsis today. Sepsis is an unrecognized killer [and] a medical emergency.”
While it may be difficult to detect, doctors and nurses can implement simple measures to prevent the spread of sepsis. The CDC recommends health practitioners wash their hands, vaccinate patients against pneumonia as well as creating awareness campaigns designed to teach the public about the dangers of the lethal blood infection.
“Helping patients to know to ask ‘could this be sepsis?’ empowers them to potentially save their own or family members’ lives,” Frieden said. “Recognition and treatment against sepsis is a race against time.”
Sepsis is more likely to strike people over 60 and children less than 12 months old. Also vulnerable to the condition are patients with long-term medical issues like diabetes or someone with a weakened immune system. However, even healthy individuals can get the infection if not treated early.
As reported by CBS News, Dana Mirman, an otherwise healthy person, thought she was bitten by an insect after noticing a small bump on her shoulder. Within 24 hours, her shoulder swelled up, was in extreme pain, and developed a fever of 104 degrees.
Shortly after arriving at the hospital, doctors found her blood pressure dangerously low. Doctors ultimately diagnosed her with septic shock.
The small bump from the day before was actually an infection of the skin and soft tissue. The infection became sepsis once it entered the bloodstream.
“The thought that it could be sepsis never even crossed my mind,” Mirman told CBS News. “I had heard of it before but I had always thought of it as a rare disease that wasn’t something that I had any context for.”
After being treated with IV fluids and antibiotics and spending several days in the ICU, her body began to return to normal levels. Mirman was eventually moved to a regular hospital room for additional medication and monitoring. She survived the sepsis infection and was able to go home healthy.
“Sepsis is the body’s over-reactive response to an infection,” said Dr. Anthony Fiore, chief of the Epidemiological Research & Innovations Branch at the CDC. “It can be so deadly because it can lead to organ failure and death because of lack of blood flow and inflammation associated with it.”
There are several symptoms of sepsis that could provide an early warning before septic shock sets in. These signs include fever, elevated heart rate, elevated respiration, extreme pain, and sweaty skin. While sepsis infection symptoms can vary, the CDC recommends seeking medical attention immediately if you or a family member develop any of these signs after being diagnosed with an infection or pneumonia.
For patients who survive a sepsis infection, most go on to live normal lives. However, some experience enduring complications like kidney failure requiring lifetime dialysis.
The CDC reports between 1 and 3 million people in the U.S. contract a sepsis infection every year. Of those, between 15 and 30 percent die. This year, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and actress Patty Duke died from complications related to sepsis. Muppets creator Jim Henson also died of the condition in 1990.
[Photo by David McNew/Getty Images]