Researchers and infection specialists are calling for a “renewed focus on sepsis prevention” now that data estimates the rate of sepsis deaths to be much higher than previous estimates. For many years, sepsis estimates were unreliable. There was not enough data to paint a clear picture of the scope of sepsis.
But now, researchers believe they have a better estimate than ever before. Researchers and specialists from the University of Washington and the University of Pittsburgh have conducted a new analysis. The team analyzed data from the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD). The most recent year that data is available is 2017.
The results of their analysis are published in The Lancet. The report shows some details about sepsis that were not previously well established. Their report shows:
- Sepsis is considered an “intermediate cause” of death, not a primary cause of death.
- 85% of sepsis-related deaths occur in low to middle income countries.
- The highest concentrations of sepsis occur in the South Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa and parts of East, South and Southeast Asia.
- Sepsis rates are higher among women than men.
- Sepsis is more common among young children than any other age group.
- An estimated 40% of sepsis cases worldwide occur in children under the age of five.
Rate of Sepsis Deaths Worldwide
Researchers examined data from 1990 to 2017. Based on their analysis, researchers believe that sepsis rates, overall, are declining.
- In 1990, there were around 60.2 million sepsis cases reported, with 15.7 million deaths.
- In 2017, there were 48.9 million cases, with 11 million deaths.
While these numbers show a promising decline, researchers warn that overall data suggests that sepsis is significant cause of death worldwide. In fact, researchers believe that sepsis is responsible for one in five deaths worldwide.
Sepsis is responsible for one in five deaths worldwide.
In previous studies, data was extremely limited and did not include cases reported in low income countries. Researchers believe, however, that in order to combat the threat of sepsis, we must know how serious the problem is. Dr. Mohsen Naghavi states,
“We need renewed focus on sepsis prevention among newborns and on tackling antimicrobial resistance, an important driver of the condition.”
Researchers also note that lower respiratory infections are the leading factor in sepsis-related deaths. Here in the United States, the majority of sepsis cases occur in hospitals. In fact, sepsis is the leading cause of death among hospital patients.
Understanding What Sepsis Really Is
Many people believe that sepsis is a type of infection, or a worsening of an infection. Sepsis is neither of these. Sepsis occurs when the body has an overwhelming response to an infection. When the body attempts to fight off an infection, certain chemicals are released. However, sometimes instead of fighting off the invading infection, the body has an overwhelming inflammatory response. This is what sepsis really is. Instead of the body attacking the infection, it actually turns on itself.
Sepsis can develop in patients with any type of infection. The patient need not be gravely ill in order for sepsis to develop. In fact, many people who develop sepsis are generally healthy, but have some type of infection. This is why many sepsis deaths are so alarming. Sepsis develops and progresses quickly.
Most commonly, sepsis develops in patients who are battling the following:
- Urinary tract infection
- Kidney infection
- Bladder infection
- Bloodstream infection
- Clostridium difficile (C.diff)
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus
Even though sepsis most often develops as a result of an infection, some patients with chronic diseases are also at risk for their body having an inflammatory response. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), patients who are most at risk include those with:
- Lung disease
- Kidney disease
- Immune disorders causing a weakened immune system
The CDC also notes that children under one year old and adults over 65 years old are also at risk.
What are the Symptoms of Sepsis?
Sepsis can develop in patients who are reasonably healthy. It is important to understand the symptoms of sepsis so that you can get medical attention as soon as possible. If you have a chronic medical condition or an infection, get medical attention immediately if you experience the following symptoms:
- Increased heart rate
- Fever with chills or shivering
- Confusion or disorientation
- Shortness of breath
- Sweaty or clammy skin
- Extreme discomfort or pain
It is especially important to get medical treatment for these symptoms if you have recently had surgery, or are recovering from a serious illness or infection. Talk to your healthcare provider about the risk of sepsis if you are recovering from the flu, pneumonia, an infection or surgery.
How Can Sepsis Deaths Be Prevented?
Sepsis is a dangerous medical condition that can affect anyone, regardless of their economic standing or citizenship. Sepsis is a preventable complication, but still even the most developed nations struggle to prevent it. Here in the U.S., research shows that an alarming number of hospitals fail to provide appropriate care for sepsis.
So what can we do to prevent sepsis? Researchers and infection specialists offer some fundamental advice:
- Get an annual flu shot.
- Get a pneumonia vaccine.
- Hospitals must do a better job of managing infections and preventing hospital-acquired infections.
- Hospitals must recognize patients most at risk for infections, such as patients with chronic diseases.
- High-income countries must support efforts in low-income countries to support treatments and infection control.
Preventing sepsis will also prevent resulting injuries and needless deaths. Patients who survive sepsis often experience long-term medical conditions, organ failure, blood clots and more. This makes the real cost of sepsis that much greater.
Sepsis is a nuisance in healthcare that affects millions of people each year. This worldwide problem is one that must be understood and addressed on a global scale before sepsis deaths can really be prevented.