September is Sepsis Awareness Month, so it is a great time to shed light on the devastating nature of sepsis. The World Health Organization (WHO) has chosen the perfect time to release their first global report on sepsis.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many issues in healthcare have faded to the background. We must not forget, however, about the devastating toll that sepsis takes on society each year.
Recent data shows that the rate of sepsis deaths are much higher than previous estimates. Each year, more than 1.7 million people in the United States develop sepsis. Of those, 270,000 people die. Across the world, estimates suggest that as many as 11 million people die each year due to sepsis and related complications.
WHO Global Report on Sepsis
The WHO Global Report on Sepsis suggests serious gaps in knowledge and research related to the condition. Most studies currently published feature hospitalizations and patients in high-income countries. There is a particular healthcare disparity related to sepsis and lower-income areas. These disparities make it difficult to really understand the global devastation this condition causes.
In the WHO report, Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesys,
“The world must urgently step up efforts to improve data about sepsis so all countries can detect and treat this terrible condition in time. This means strengthening health information systems and ensuring access to rapid diagnostic tools, and quality care including safe and affordable medicines and vaccines.”
Rapid diagnosis and treatment is the most effective means of preventing sepsis-related deaths.
Where Does Sepsis Occur?
According to the Global Report on Sepsis, sepsis occurs most often in low-income areas. In these areas, infants, pregnant women and older adults are the most likely to develop sepsis. The WHO estimates that 85 percent of cases occur in these areas.
Sepsis also frequently develops in the healthcare setting. Around 49 percent of patients in intensive care who develop sepsis acquire it while in the hospital. Of those, 27 percent of patients will die. Forty-two percent of people in ICU with sepsis will die.
Sadly, the majority of cases of sepsis in hospitals are preventable. In fact, in 2019, Brown, Christie & Green released a sepsis care study which showed that an overwhelming number of hospitals fail in their infection control and sepsis prevention efforts. Almost 75 percent of hospitals receive a failing grade from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Sepsis is often called an infection, but it isn’t. It is actually the body’s overwhelming response to an infection. Rather than fighting off the infection, the immune system releases toxic chemicals into the blood stream. These chemicals attack the body and can cause serious damage.
Sepsis can develop after any type of infection. Even something as minor as an insect bite can become infected and trigger the body’s response. That is why it is so important to understand sepsis, recognize the symptoms and know when to get medical help.
Who is Most Likely to Get Sepsis?
The Sepsis Alliance says that the people most likely to develop symptoms are those with:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Recent surgery
- Recent injury
Also, people who are 50 and older are 80 percent more likely to develop sepsis than younger patients. Adults 65 and older are 13 times more likely to require hospitalization if they develop sepsis. Older adults are also more at risk of serious complications and long-term effects of sepsis. Older adults may experience long-term cognitive impairment, permanent organ damage, amputations, and death.
Pregnant women are also more susceptible to sepsis. The WHO estimates that 11 out of every 1,000 women giving birth experience severe infection-related organ damage or death. Obstetric infections are the third leading cause of maternal mortality.
Research also shows that sepsis is a significant factor in COVID-19 deaths. This makes understanding this condition even more important, especially in hospitals and nursing homes.
What are the Symptoms of Sepsis?
The symptoms associated with sepsis can be difficult to recognize. Some symptoms are also symptoms of other medical conditions. Rather than looking at one symptom, healthcare providers diagnose sepsis by considering a combination of symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), doctors look for the following:
- Increase in heart rate
- Decrease in blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing
- Sweaty or clammy skin
- Severe pain or discomfort
When these symptoms are present and the patient has, or has recently had, an infection, doctors will perform laboratory tests. These tests look for markers that could indicate sepsis, such as:
- Bacterial infection
- Viral infections
- Organ damage
It is important to diagnose sepsis quickly, but also to identify the source of the original infection in order to treat it.
WHO Global Report on Sepsis Calls for Action
In response to the findings in the global report on sepsis, the WHO is calling for action. The organization believes that there are some basic steps that we can take to prevent, better diagnose and treat sepsis. The WHO is calling for action in the following ways:
- Improve sanitation and water quality and water availability.
- Improve infection prevention and control measures.
- Encourage proper hand hygiene.
- Ensure that healthcare providers have appropriate training toward early diagnosis.
- Ensure that healthcare providers understand appropriate clinical management of sepsis.
- Improve access to safe and affordable healthcare, including vaccines and medication.
Globally, the WHO is calling on communities to:
- Improve data collection, especially in low-income countries and communities.
- Scale up global advocacy, research capacity and funding.
- Improve surveillance systems in primary care
- Develop affordable and appropriate rapid diagnostic tools for primary and secondary care.
- Educate healthcare workers and communities on the importance of infection control. Educate them on the dangers of sepsis and how to recognize it and get treatment.
The more we know about sepsis, the better prepared we can be. With the current state of hospitals and nursing homes in U.S., it is more important than ever that the healthcare system takes action to prevent sepsis and protect vulnerable patients.
Learn More about the WHO Global Report on Sepsis
To learn more about sepsis and how you can stay ahead of the risk, visit the CDC’s webpage titled “How can I get ahead of sepsis?”
If you have questions about sepsis that developed in a hospital or nursing home, contact Brown, Christie & Green. We have helped clients who developed sepsis as a result of medical malpractice or nursing home abuse. We can help you determine if your situation constitutes medical negligence, and if so, what your best options are going forward.
Find out more by calling our Houston medical malpractice attorneys at 1-800-600-4210. You can also reach us online by completing the contact form on our website. Your information is confidential, and your consultation is free of charge.