Sepsis deaths jump to one in five – more than are killed by cancer, US analysis shows

January 20, 2020

Sepsis or blood poisoning, in layman’s terms, is caused by the immune system not just attacking foreign invaders but parts of its own body too – the drawbacks could be worse than cancer or HIV. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington (UW), Seattle, have said that one in five deaths around the world is caused by sepsis and is at least two times more than previous estimates. While it is expected that poor/middle income countries would have such cases, wealthier nations seem subject to the sepsis as well.

Previous global estimates, based on medical records from 195 (mostly) western nations, came up with 5 million deaths. Currently, the 11 million deaths from sepsis account for one in five of all deaths globally – the majority of cases (the latest being 85% in 2017) originated in low- and middle- income countries; but even in the UK, the death rate is remarkably high with around 48,000 deaths from sepsis each year.

Apart from infected patients, it is now suggested that healthy people may be subject to sepsis. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some 250,000 Americans may die from a sepsis infection. Statistically, that figure could increase year-by-year due to the unexpected nature of sepsis.

Lead author and Assistant Professor of Critical Care Medicine at Pitt, Dr. Kristina Rudd urges prompt action and awareness to save lives.”My colleagues treating affected patients every day have been saying this for years that sepsis is a major problem – I just didn’t expect the estimates to be so high.”

Sepsis has three stages: mild sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock. Most people recover from mild sepsis, but the average mortality rate for septic shock about 40%. Since the infections are often resistant to antibiotic treatment, they can rapidly cause deteriorating medical conditions – in rare cases, an infection may flare up while the patient is in the hospital recovering from another procedure.

You are advised to seek immediate treatment if you experience any of the following:-

  • High heart rate (exceeding 90 beats per minute)
  • High breathing rate (exceeding 20 breaths per minute)
  • Unusual high or low fever
  • Chills due to low body temperature
  • Decreased urination
  • Patches of discoloured skin

In children, symptoms are harder to detect, but as the researchers have determined that 40% of children under five may be affected by sepsis, do look out for:-

  • Pale/bluish/mottled skin
  • Lethargic and abnormally cold to touch
  • Fast breathing
  • Unexpected seizures/convulsions

There has been a big push within the health service to begin effective hygiene practices to prevent an infection in the fist place, including hand washing and improved sanitation, safe preparation of food, and providing ample access to vaccines. Healthcare workers are also advised to better identify patients with sepsis in order to treat them before it is too late – early treatment with antibiotics or anti-virals to clear an infection can make a massive difference in patient mortality.

UW’s Professor of Global Health, Dr. Mohsen Naghavi,concluded: “Sepsis is both preventable and treatable; we need renewed focus on sepsis prevention among newborns and on tackling antimicrobial resistance, which is an important driver of the condition.”

So, it’s a good idea to avoid unhygienic habits and simply take care of yourself.

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