You are here

CDC: Saving Patients From Sepsis Is a Race Against Time

Health care providers play critical role

Sepsis is caused by the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection and requires rapid intervention. It begins outside of the hospital for nearly 80% of patients. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 70% of patients with sepsis had used health care services recently or had chronic diseases that required frequent medical care. These patients represent opportunities for health care providers to prevent, recognize, and treat sepsis long before it can cause life-threatening illness or death, according to the CDC.

“When sepsis occurs, it should be treated as a medical emergency,” said CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “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?’”

Certain people with an infection are more likely to develop sepsis, including people 65 years of age or older; infants less than 1 year old; people who have weakened immune systems; and people who have chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes. While much less common, even healthy children and adults can develop sepsis from an infection, especially when it is not recognized early. The 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; and a high heart rate.

According to the new Vital Signs report, infections of the lung, urinary tract, skin, and gut most often led to sepsis. In most cases, the germ that caused the infection leading to sepsis was not identified. When identified, the most common germs leading to sepsis were Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, and some types of Streptococcus.

Health care providers play a critical role in protecting patients from infections that can lead to sepsis and in recognizing sepsis early, the CDC says. Health care providers can:

  • Prevent infections. Follow infection-control requirements (such as handwashing) and ensure that patients get recommended vaccines (e.g., flu and pneumococcal).
  • Educate patients and their families. Stress the need to prevent infections, manage chronic conditions, and, if an infection is not improving, promptly seek care. Don’t delay.
  • Think sepsis. Know the signs and symptoms to identify and treat patients earlier.
  • Act fast. If sepsis is suspected, order tests to help determine whether an infection is present, where it is, and what caused it. Start antibiotics and other recommended medical care immediately.
  • Reassess patient management. Check patient progress frequently. Reassess antibiotic therapy within 24 to 48 hours or sooner to change therapy as needed. Determine whether the type of antibiotics, dose, and duration are correct.

The CDC is working on five key areas related to sepsis:

  • Increasing sepsis awareness by engaging clinical professional organizations and patient advocates.
  • Aligning infection prevention, chronic disease management, and appropriate antibiotic use to promote early recognition of sepsis.
  • Studying risk factors for sepsis that can guide focused prevention and early recognition.
  • Developing tracking for sepsis to measure the impact of successful interventions.
  • Preventing infections that may lead to sepsis by promoting vaccination programs, chronic disease management, infection prevention, and appropriate antibiotic use.

Source: CDC; August 23, 2016.

Recent Headlines

Despite older, sicker patients, mortality rate fell by a third in 10 years
Study finds fewer than half of trials followed the law
WHO to meet tomorrow to decide on international public heath emergency declaration
Study of posted prices finds wild variations and missing data
Potential contamination could lead to supply chain disruptions
Declining lung cancer mortality helped fuel the progress
Kinase inhibitor targets tumors with a PDGFRA exon 18 mutation
Delayed surgery reduces benefits; premature surgery raises risks
Mortality nearly doubled when patients stopped using their drugs