Sepsis is common and often deadly. It remains the primary cause of death from infection, despite advances in modern medicine like vaccines, antibiotics, and intensive care. Often misunderstood as “blood poisoning”, sepsis today is one of the leading causes of death around the world.
Sepsis arises when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. It can lead to shock, multiple organ failure, and death, especially if it is not recognized early and treated promptly. Between one-third and one-half of all sepsis patients die. In developing countries, sepsis accounts for 60-80% of all deaths. It kills more than 6 million infants and young children, and 100,000 new mothers every year. Every few seconds, someone in the world dies of sepsis.
Sepsis causes more deaths each year than prostate cancer, breast cancer and HIV/AIDS combined. An estimated 18 million people contract sepsis every year. Experts believe that sepsis is actually responsible for most deaths attributed to HIV/AIDS, malaria, pneumonia and other infections acquired in the community, in healthcare settings or by traumatic injury.
Sepsis survivors suffer from a number of physical, cognitive and affective health problems. Their risk of dying in the five years following the disease doubles.
Despite advances in modern medicine, the number of sepsis cases continues to increase dramatically. Hospitalizations for sepsis have more than doubled over the last 10 years, and in many countries, more people are hospitalized each year for sepsis than for heart attack. International studies show that 20-40% of sepsis patients requiring intensive care treatment developed sepsis outside the hospital. In the United States, the incidence of post-surgical sepsis tripled between 1997 and 2006.
Sepsis diagnosis is often delayed because the clinical symptoms and laboratory signs currently used (raised temperature, increased pulse or breathing rate, white blood cell count, etc.) are not specific enough. In children, the signs and symptoms may be subtle, and deterioration rapid. Sepsis is under-recognized and poorly understood due to confusion about its definition, the lack of documentation of sepsis as a cause of death, inadequate diagnostic tools, and inconsistent application of standardized clinical guidelines to treat sepsis.
In 2008, $14.6 billion were spent on hospitalizations for sepsis in the US. Between 1997 and 2008, total costs for treating patients hospitalized for sepsis increased by an average of 11.9% each year, adjusted for inflation. The costs related to long-term damage resulting from sepsis are unknown. In Germany, the cost of a typical episode of sepsis has more than doubled over the last decade, from approximately 25,000 to 55,000 euros. And the human cost of sepsis is incalculable.
Rapid initiation of simple, timely interventions, including antimicrobials and intravenous fluids, can reduce the risk of death by half. Patients with suspected sepsis should be referred immediately to an appropriate facility. Early sepsis treatment is cost effective, and reduces the number of hospital and critical care bed days for patients. Unfortunately, sepsis is still often overlooked and recognized too late.
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