CDC: Sepsis reaction could mean difference between life, death

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The signs and symptoms of sepsis.
The signs and symptoms of sepsis.

Recognizing the signs of sepsis could mean the difference between life and death for your residents, according to a “Vital Signs” report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.

Those signs include shivering, fever, or feeling very cold; extreme pain or discomfort; clammy or sweaty skin; confusion or disorientation; shortness of breath and a high heart rate.

Sepsis should be treated as a medical emergency, according to CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “The mortality rate from sepsis is between 15% and 30%, and many of the people who survive sepsis will end up with a prolonged stay in the nursing home or other long-term care facility,” he said at a press conference.

Sepsis detector wins second place
in NIH competition


A disposable chip that detects biomarkers of sepsis captured second place in a nationwide competition between teams of undergraduate engineering students, the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering announced Tuesday. The Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams Challenge is sponsored by the NIBIB and VentureWell, a non-profit higher-education network.

The Point-of-Care Sepsis Stratification team, from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, won $15,000 for second place. The team's disposable chip detects biomarkers of sepsis with higher sensitivity and specificity than is currently possible, an important point because survival rates drop with each passing hour after the onset of sepsis.

“A new way to more easily and effectively diagnose sepsis could potentially save millions of lives,” said Zeynep Erim, Ph.D., who manages the DEBUT competition for NIBIB.

Sepsis, caused by the body's response to an infection, begins outside of the hospital for almost 80% of people, and approximately 70% of people with sepsis had used healthcare services recently or had chronic diseases that required frequent medical care, according to the federal agency.

Adults aged more than 65 years who have an infection, people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, and those with weakened immune systems — for instance, from tobacco use — are at higher risk of getting sepsis, according to the CDC, and even healthy adults can develop sepsis from an infection, especially when it is not recognized early.

Infections of the lung, urinary tract, skin and gut most often led to sepsis, according to the Vital Signs report. In most cases, the germ that caused the infection leading to sepsis was not identified. When identified, however, the most common germs leading to sepsis were Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli (E. coli) and some types of Streptococcus.

Among the tips offered by the CDC to help prevent, recognize and treat sepsis:

  • Follow hand hygiene and encourage residents to obtain flu and pneumococcal vaccines. The flu often is followed by a bacterial infection, Frieden said.
  • Educate residents and their families about the need to prevent infections, manage chronic conditions and seek care if signs of severe infection or sepsis are present. “The Sepsis Alliance released a survey today noting that about only half of Americans had heard of sepsis, and three out of four Americans didn't know the signs and symptoms of sepsis,” Frieden said.

The CDC director said that the agency plans to launch a sepsis awareness campaign in 2017. “This will be a multiyear, multimillion dollar campaign,” Frieden said. The CDC will begin hosting a series of continuing education opportunities for healthcare providers this month, he added.

For more information about sepsis, visit this CDC web page.

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