Sepsis Awareness Month: Do you know the signs?

September 1st, 2018

“See it. Stop it. Survive it.” What is “it”? It is sepsis, a life-threatening condition that can result from an infection.

The Indiana Patient Safety Center of the Indiana Hospital Association and Reid Health are spreading the word about sepsis as part of national Sepsis Awareness Month in September. Jessica Austerman, Director of Quality & Patient Safety at Reid Health, notes that sepsis is a public health issue and not just a problem for hospitals and health care organizations.

Sepsis is the term for when the body has an overwhelming response to an infection, possibly leading to tissue damage, organ failure and even death. “Sepsis happens when an infection already in the body triggers a chain reaction throughout the body,” Austerman said. Sepsis can be caused by almost any type of infectious agent in multiple areas such as the skin, lungs, urinary tract or elsewhere.

“It’s important for everyone to know how to watch for signs of sepsis.”

“It’s important for everyone to know how to watch for signs of sepsis,” Austerman said, noting that someone in the world dies from the condition every three to four seconds. It affects more than a million people in the United States each year and from 15 to 30 percent of those stricken will die. “In Indiana alone, more than 3,000 died in hospitals from sepsis in 2017.”

Austerman said Reid Health works hard to identify septic patients and provide timely interventions and treatments. “Reid, as part of the Southeastern Patient Safety Coalition, is among hospitals with the lowest sepsis mortality rates in the state”.

Sepsis can be difficult to diagnose because it shares symptoms with other conditions. Health care providers watch for increased heart and breathing rates and temperature, and conduct lab tests to check for infections that may not be visible.

Other signs for concern include:

  • S – Shivering, fever, feeling very cold
  • E – Extreme pain or feeling worse than ever
  • P – Pale or discolored skin
  • S – Sleepiness, difficulty waking up, confusion
  • I – “I feel like I might die”
  • S – Shortness of breath

The Global Sepsis Alliance says sepsis is the leading cause of death following an infection, and it can result from what begins as a minor infection.

To help reduce risk of sepsis:

  • Get vaccinations against the flu, pneumonia and other infections.
  • Take the tried and true prevention precautions of good hand-washing, keeping any wounds clean and follow good basic hygiene.
  • Be vigilant and aware of fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, confusion and disorientation.
  • Stay in communication with your caregivers about any concerns.

Austerman says anyone can get sepsis, though children under age 1 and adults over age 60 are at higher risk. People with a weakened immune system or chronic conditions such as diabetes, cancer, kidney or other diseases are also at higher risk.

Additional sepsis education resources: