Sepsis: The Leading Killer No One Talks About

It’s a disease that kills more Americans each year than breast, lung, and prostate cancers combined. It accounts for more than 1 million hospitalizations annually in the United States.

When it comes to the top deadly illnesses, few people talk about sepsis. In fact, a recent survey found that 69 percent of us have no idea what sepsis is even though the condition is extremely serious, killing 20 percent of its victims.

Sepsis is a toxic response to an infection, explains Jim O’Brien, M.D., director of Sepsis Alliance and Associate Professor at the Center for Critical Care at the Ohio State University Medical Center.

“You can get it following a hospital stay or from getting your nail infected after a manicure,” he tells Newsmax Health. ”The most important message is that if you feel an infection is getting worse, you need to treat it like a heart attack. It’s a medical emergency, and the sooner you get treatment, the better your chances of survival.”

Treatment often includes intravenous antibiotics — and the faster the drug can be administered, the better. In fact, every hour of delay before antibiotics are given causes an 8 percent drop in survival rate.

Early symptoms may include mottling of the skin, confusion, chills, decreased urination, lightheadedness, rapid heart rate, and shaking. As the infection advances, blood pressure can drop, resulting in shock. Sepsis can interfere with blood flow and lead to tissue dying, or necrosis, resulting in the amputation of limbs.

Medical experts say sepsis can arise from an infection anywhere in the body. No one is immune to sepsis, although some groups are at higher risk.

“People on both ends of the age spectrum are particularly vulnerable,” says Dr. O’Brien, adding that sepsis is the leading killer of kids under the age of 5 worldwide. Those suffering from cancer, liver disease, and alcoholics are among high-risk groups.

New research shows that people who do survive the disease may develop difficulties with thinking, called cognitive dysfunction. In fact, a recent study suggests there are 22,000 cases of cognitive dysfunction among sepsis survivors every year.

Dr. Derek Angus, a lead researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who is currently studying sepsis, says that even after treatment, the disease can remain a long-term problem. “Even though people may survive, a significant number of them still have some inflammation under the surface and face trouble for months,” he says.

Dr. O’Brien says the key to surviving sepsis with fewer long-term effects is that when patients see that a wound is infected, they get treatment immediately. “Early detection and treatment is what will help you get better,” he says. “Public awareness is key to defeating this disease We, as patients, need to do our bit to protect ourselves against this devastating disease.”

“Keep immunizations up to date, follow a full course of antibiotics when you have an infection, and wash your hands carefully,” says Dr. O’Brien. “And if you go to the hospital or emergency room, mention that you are concerned about sepsis. This will put the staff on notice and they won’t delay your treatment.”

For more information visit the Sepsis Alliance website at: