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Battling the rise in sepsis

Sepsis rates in the U.S. have skyrocketed. And data shows that roughly 50 percent of all sepsis patients today will die. But why?

Sepsis is a growing epidemic in the United States. According to recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 750,000 patients in the United States become infected with sepsis annually-and the number of cases continue to rise every single year. Further, data from a new study suggests that an astonishing 50 percent of all sepsis patients today will die.

But why is sepsis so lethal? And why has it become a serious problem?

Understanding sepsis

Sepsis is essentially caused by a bacterial infection that courses throughout the bloodstream and causes the body's immune system to go into overdrive. And, as body struggles to fight off the infection, a whole host of problems occur.

Individuals inflicted with sepsis often experience widespread multi-organ system dysfunction that causes spikes in heart rate, high fevers, drops in blood pressure, and other organ system dysfunction. Multi-organ-system failure and death follow - often within a small timeframe if the infection isn't detected early and properly treated. That's why it's so dangerous.

Sadly, fatalities from sepsis are on the rise. But why?

Lack of detection

A potential reason behind the rise in deaths from sepsis is attributed to healthcare professionals' failure to promptly detect these types of infections. You can't cure the problem if you don't find the source-and missing the source is often a fatal mistake.

A case in point involves one man who died from sepsis a month after being admitted and treated for abdominal pain. Upon a visit to the ER, a doctor immediately diagnosed him with appendicitis. His appendix was removed but the man failed to improve. His test results revealed the man's appendix was just fine. The source of the sepsis was never found until roughly one month later, when it was too late and multi-system organ failure occurred. He died 2 days later from a large abscess that developed from an infection that was not timely found.

Another instance involves an elderly man who died from sepsis 2 weeks after he fell on his hip and broke it. He saw a doctor in an ER, but the x-rays were reported as negative. The man was sent to physical therapy but the underlying fracture and hematoma went undiagnosed. His condition worsened over a 3 week period and large doses of pain medication were required to maintain him. He developed aspiration pneumonia, became septic, was sent to another hospital ER and died within 24 hours from sepsis.

Antibiotic treatment

Another potential reason for the increase in sepsis deaths can be linked to improper antibiotic treatment and drug resistant bacteria. In some instances, doctors may fail to prescribe the correct antibiotic and, without an effective drug, the infection can spread out of control. A case in point involves a woman who developed bacterial sepsis after thoracic surgery. She started with a respiratory tract infection that was treatable with almost all available antibiotics, except a few. Unfortunately, she was put on one of the few antibiotics that were not effective. Eleven days later the infection to spread throughout her blood stream to her lungs and kidneys.

In the other instances, antibiotic overprescription is the culprit. Certain bacteria, often called superbugs, are resistant to many types of antibiotics due to indiscriminate use. The powerful bacteria thrive as a result and spread rapidly in hospitals and other institutional settings.

Tackling sepsis

Sepsis is a complex medical condition, but enhanced detection procedures and protocols to prevent indiscriminate antibiotic prescription practices are two key components that could really help mitigate sepsis-related deaths in the U.S.

Hopefully, continued public awareness about sepsis will motivate healthcare entities to take such proactive measures to tackle the growing problem.

Keywords: hospital malpractice, sepsis infections

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