Sepsis Explained, Deadly Condition Unknown to Many

ELMIRA, N.Y. (18 NEWS) - Sepsis is a disease that's been around since the fourth century BC.

It's one of the deadliest conditions on the planet yet not many people know much about it.

"It can affect anyone, but certainly people who are chronically ill or diabetic," Schuyler Hospital Medical Director and Medical Doctor Michael Eisman said. "People with any kind of chronic condition that leads to immune changes are at much higher risk." 

It's a life-threatening condition, sometimes known as blood poisoning, that strikes over one million Americans a year yet many haven't even heard of it.

"Sepsis is actually a reaction of your whole body to an infection, so although we may think of it as being as blood poisoning or bacteria in the blood, it's actually sometimes just that your body reacts to an infection in a way that causes damage to your organs in some fashion," Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital Physician Jill Burns said.

"By far the most common cause is bacterial sepsis, but you can also have viral sepsis or fungal sepsis that can cause the same kind of syndrome," Eisman said. "Sepsis is a syndrome. It's a description of what happens in the body when the body is overwhelmed by an infection."

As shown in this YouTube video by Sepsisfonden, the body tries to fight a local infection, but instead, the immune system overworks itself damaging tissues and organs resulting in wide spread inflammation.

Low blood pressure occurs and oxygen can be cut off to the body's lungs, kidneys, or heart.

Common infections that can trigger sepsis include pneumonia in the lungs, a wound, or urinary tract infection.

According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, out of the one million Americans who become diagnosed every year, up to 50 percent of them die.

In the United States alone, it kills more people than prostate cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined.

Despite this high mortality rate, less than half of the country is aware of it according to the CDC. Early detection is vital because patients can die within a matter of hours.

Sepsisfonden says symptoms can include fever and chills, trouble with breathing, diarrhea and vomiting, confusion because of changed mental status, low blood pressure, and low urine production.

Schuyler Hospital is part of a state and nationwide effort called the Surviving Sepsis Campaign in trying to protect against it.

"We have protocols in place for our emergency room and our physicians to follow when a patient starts to meet the sepsis guidelines," Eisman said. "There are methods of early sepsis detection, and so our emergency room providers are all aware of those. Our nurses are aware of those, so if somebody meets those criteria, they're automatically entered into certain protocols that are based on evidence to treat sepsis early and try and increase survival."

As for prevention, the CDC recommends practicing good hygiene like washing your hands, cleaning scrapes and wounds, and just staying healthy overall.

"To prevent sepsis you should exercise, eat well, get your immunizations that are warranted at whatever age you are," Donna Packard, an infection preventionist at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital, said. "Regular follow ups with the doctors, and if something does happen then it's recognizing that. You know, not putting things off."

There is no way of knowing exactly how many people have sepsis especially in developing countries, but rates of the disease have been increasing, and for whatever reason, it is more common among males than females.

Visit the CDC's website or the National Institute of General Medical Sciences website for more information on sepsis.

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