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Failure to Report Sepsis Symptoms Can Be Deadly Warns Patient Safety Authority

HARRISBURG, Pa., Nov. 18, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- For every hour that a patient with septic shock goes untreated, the mortality rate increases by 7 percent. That's why knowing the warning signs is critical to surviving the deadly disease, says the Patient Safety Authority (PSA). Sepsis is the leading killer of children in the world and is one of the deadliest conditions in Pennsylvania. In 2017 (the last year on record), sepsis took the lives of more than 2,400 Pennsylvanians including babies, young children, and healthy young adults. But it doesn't have to be that way if the public knows what to look for.

"The problem is that sepsis quietly sneaks up on unsuspecting victims, who often think they have a severe and sudden case of the flu," says Regina Hoffman, executive director of the PSA. "The symptoms can be tricky to spot."

They include one or a combination of six signs: high fever or feeling very cold, confusion or disorientation, a high heart rate, shortness of breath, sweaty or clammy skin, and extreme pain or discomfort. They also present differently depending on the age of the person, explained Dr. Joe Carcillo, Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, during a PSA Facebook Live event on sepsis.

According to Dr. Carcillo, the most common signs in babies are a poor suck and floppy tone—meaning that the baby feels limp when held. Children and adults often have fevers, are irritable, sleepy, and can't get up. The elderly rarely show a fever; an acute change in mental status is a key symptom.

Strep throat can turn fatal if sepsis occurs. So can a splinter. Sepsis always starts with an infection, often seemingly benign, like infections of the skin or urinary tract or respiratory system. Then the body's immune system goes into overdrive, backfires, and attacks its own organs.

"If there's been a cut or scrape, wash the wound well. If there's redness, draw a circle around the area. If it keeps growing beyond the circle, if it's painful and the person has a fever, suspect sepsis," Dr. Carcillo explained.  "If the individual started with a cough or cold and is breathing quickly, can't interact well and sleeps a lot, call your doctor."

PSA infection preventionists have been training Pennsylvania healthcare workers about sepsis since 2016. Now it's turning its attention to the public.

"We want everyone to realize that sepsis is a life-threatening medical emergency. Anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection can lead to sepsis. If you think you or a loved one might have sepsis, speak up quickly. Get to a hospital or call 911 and ask 'Could this be sepsis?'" advises Hoffman.

About the Patient Safety Authority
The Patient Safety Authority's mission is to improve the quality of healthcare in Pennsylvania by collecting and analyzing patient safety information, developing solutions to patient safety issues, and sharing this information through education and collaboration. Its vision is safe healthcare for all patients. Established under the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Act of 2002, the PSA, an independent state agency, collects and analyzes patient safety data to improve safety outcomes and help prevent patient harm. 

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SOURCE Patient Safety Authority