CDC urges fast action on preventing, treating sepsis

Blurry gurney
Blurry gurney

Spotmatik / iStock

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new report today on the dangers of sepsis, a clinical syndrome that strikes quickly and can lead to tissue failure, organ damage, and death.

The aim of the Vital Signs report is to raise awareness about the condition, which occurs when the body has an immediate, systemic, and overwhelming reaction to an infection, and to urge the public and healthcare providers to act quickly when sepsis is suspected. CDC officials say quick recognition and early treatment can save lives.  

"When sepsis occurs, it should be treated as a medical emergency," CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a press release "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?' "

According to the CDC, sepsis most often occurs in people older than 65 or under age 1 and in patients with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions like diabetes. But healthy adults and children can develop sepsis if an infection isn't treated properly. Estimates of the rate of sepsis-related deaths vary widely.

Characteristics of patients with sepsis

Included in the report is a retrospective study of 325 patients (246 adults and 79 children) diagnosed as having sepsis between October 2012 and September 2013 at four acute care hospitals in New York. The study found that more than 7 of 10 patients had at least one chronic health condition that required frequent care or had used healthcare services within the previous 30 days.

In nearly 80% of the patients, sepsis onset began outside of the hospital. A quarter of the patients died.

The study also found that the most common illnesses leading to sepsis were pneumonia (35%), urinary tract infections (25%), gastrointestinal infections (11%), and skin/soft tissue infections (11%). The most common pathogens identified from blood samples were Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and certain types of Streptococcus.

The CDC is urging healthcare providers to know sepsis signs and symptoms, order tests to determine if an infection is present whenever sepsis is suspected, and begin treatment immediately. Antibiotic therapy should be reassessed within 24 to 48 hours.

But the authors of the study say the finding that most sepsis patients had recent interactions with the healthcare system suggests providers can also play a critical role in prevention. To that effect, they recommend that doctors use routine healthcare encounters with patients to implement infection prevention strategies. Those measures include increasing vaccination coverage and following infection control requirements (like hand hygiene), as well as educating patients about the need to manage chronic conditions and seek immediate care when signs of sepsis are present.

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
  • High heart rate

See also:

Aug 23 CDC Vital Signs report

Aug 23 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report study

Aug 23 CDC press release

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