Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that 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. Sepsis is the leading cause of death from infection around the world, despite advances in modern medicine like vaccines, antibiotics, and acute care. Millions of people around the world die of sepsis every year.
Stage 1: A local infection overcomes the body’s local defense mechanisms, and pathogenic germs and the toxins they produce leave the original site of the infection and enter the circulatory system. This leads to a general inflammatory response called SIRS (systemic inflammatory response syndrome)
Stage 2: The function of individual organs starts to deteriorate and may completely fail
Stage 3: Several organs stop functioning sequentially or simultaneously, and cardio-circulatory failure leads to a sudden drop in blood pressure. Doctors call this septic shock.
A local infection causes local inflammation. The blood vessels around the center of infection expand, becoming more permeable, and the supply of blood increases. The blood also circulates more slowly to allow white blood cells (leukocytes) and messenger substances (semiochemicals) to penetrate the vascular walls into the tissues to fight the pathogens. The blood in the micro-vessels surrounding the infection coagulates. This is the body’s natural defense mechanism; it prevents the pathogens from spilling over into the circulatory system.
Typical signs of this local inflammation are increased temperature, redness, pain, and swelling around the center of infection.
When these local defense mechanisms fail and the pathogens enter the circulatory system, this natural inflammatory response spreads, damaging organs and tissues that have not been invaded directly by pathogens. This effective host response may result in much collateral damage. In a different scenario, people with compromised immune systems are also more likely to develop sepsis. That is because their local defense mechanisms against the invasion of pathogens into the blood stream are weakened, and their immune response to this invasion is often too weak to win the battle.
In severe cases, blood pressure drops dramatically, the heart races, the oxygen supply to the blood via the lungs deteriorates, the oxygen supply to the organs and tissue is choked, the kidneys no longer produce urine, and the patients mental status is gravely impaired. The patient's life is in acute danger. Emergency medical treatment is the only hope of survival.
Innovative therapies to modulate the body’s immune response are under development (“immunomodulatory therapies”). They aim to enhance or control the body’s immune response, as needed. In addition to antimicrobial treatments, these therapies may help to increase a patient’s chances of survival in the future.
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