September marked the annual celebration of Sepsis Awareness Month, dedicated to putting a spotlight on the third leading cause of death in the U.S. – sepsis.
Sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threating response to infection, which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death. Because sepsis can not only be treated but prevented, thousands of lives can be saved each year by simply raising awareness of its symptoms. In 2014, Sepsis Alliance, the nation’s leading sepsis patient advocacy non-profit, designated September as Sepsis Awareness Month to draw attention to this treatable condition that takes more than 270,000 lives each year in the U.S.
Holy Family’s Medical Director of the Emergency Department Dr. Delwin Merchant shared, “We want to take the opportunity of this awareness month to shine a much-needed light on sepsis. The body has incredible defense mechanisms to fight off infections. Sepsis is when an infection is triggering a heightened response from the body’s immune system that can ultimately damage some of the body’s organs,” he explained. “Sepsis can affect anyone regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, or previous state of health. There are so many people right here in our local community affected by sepsis and this is our opportunity to raise awareness for this entirely treatable condition.”
Any type of infection can trigger sepsis and it can develop very rapidly. A relatively healthy person can get very sick, very quickly, sometimes before they even realize they have an infection. It is not known yet what causes sepsis to occur in some people and not in others, but medical professionals do know that some people are at higher risk of developing sepsis. These include:
People over the age of 65 years.
Young children, especially under the age of one year.
People with weakened immune systems, which may be caused by immune-suppressing medications (such as corticosteroids and chemotherapy), and those who do not have a spleen.
People with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Sepsis is a medical emergency that kills over 250,000 people in the U.S. a year – one every two minutes. This is more than prostate cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined.
More than 75,000 children develop severe sepsis each year and 6,800 of these children lose their life, more than from childhood cancers.
Sepsis is a worldwide emergency. More than 26 million people from around the globe are affected by sepsis each year and it is the largest killer of children – more than five million each year.
Dr. Merchant explained there is no one symptom of sepsis but a combination of symptoms. “They include shivering and fever, extreme pain, accelerated heartbeat, decreased urine output, sleepiness or being difficult to rouse, pale or discolored skin, or shortness of breath. Recognizing these symptoms is particularly important in people who have recently been ill, had an infection, or have had an invasive procedure, such as an intravenous catheter, a urinary catheter, or even a tattoo or piercing,” he said. If you suspect you or someone you know may have sepsis, see a medical professional immediately, call 911, or go to a hospital and say, “I am concerned about sepsis.” To learn more, visit sepsis.org.