What Is Sepsis/blood infection?
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition in which the body is fighting a severe infection that has spread via the bloodstream. If a patient becomes 'septic', they will likely have low blood pressure leading to poor circulation and lack of blood perfusion of vital tissues and organs. This condition is termed 'shock' and is sometimes referred to as septic shock when an infection is the cause of shock to distinguish it from shock due to blood loss or from other causes. This condition can develop either as a result of the body's own defense system or from toxic substances made by the infecting agent. Survival rates for sepsis depend on the patient's underlying medical conditions, how quickly the diagnosis is made, the organism that causes the infection, and the patient's age.
People at Risk for Sepsis
- People whose immune systems (the body's defense against infections) are not functioning well because of an illness (such as diabetes or AIDS) or because of medical treatments that weaken the immune system (such as chemotherapy for cancer or steroids for a number of medical conditions) are more prone to develop sepsis. It is important to remember that even healthy people can become septic.
- Very young babies, because their immune systems are not completely developed, may get sepsis if they become infected and are not treated in a timely manner. Often, if they develop signs of an infection such as fever, infants must receive antibiotics and be admitted to the hospital. Sepsis in the very young is often more difficult to diagnose because the typical signs of sepsis (fever, change in behavior) may not be present or may be more difficult to ascertain.
- The elderly population, especially those with other medical illnesses such as diabetes, may be at increased risk as well.
- Hospitalized patients are at risk to develop sepsis from infections due to intravenous lines, catheters, surgical wounds, and/or bedsores.
The number of people dying from sepsis has increased in the past 20 years. This is most likely due to the increased number of patients who suffer from sepsis. The number of patients who develop sepsis has increased for many reasons. Since 1999, the rapid rise of sepsis mortality seen in previous decades has slowed.
- There has been a large increase in sepsis because doctors have started treating cancer patients and organ-transplant patients, among others, with strong medications that weaken the immune system. In the past, these patients would have died due to complications of their disease. As we get better at treating the underlying illness, patients survive longer but then sometimes die due to the complications of the therapy.
- As our aging population increases, the number of elderly people with weak immune systems has grown.
- Advances in medical care have increased the survival of acute events (severe trauma, severe strokes), which often lead to a delayed death due to sepsis.
- Increased antibiotic use has resulted in many more resistant strains of bacteria, making the treatment of sepsis more difficult in some cases because there is no effective antibiotic.
What Causes Sepsis?
Many different microbes can cause sepsis. Although bacteria are most commonly the cause, viruses and fungi can also cause sepsis. Infections in the lungs (pneumonia), bladder and kidneys (urinary tract infections), skin (cellulitis), abdomen (such as appendicitis), and other areas (such as meningitis) can spread and lead to sepsis. Infections that develop after surgery can also lead to sepsis.
What Are Sepsis Risk Factors?
- Very young people and elderly people
- Anyone who is taking immunosuppressive medications (such as transplant recipients)
- People who are being treated with cancer chemotherapy drugs or radiation
- People who have had their spleen surgically removed (the spleen helps fight certain infections)
- People taking steroids (especially over the long term)
- People with longstanding diabetes, AIDS, or cirrhosis
- Someone who has very large burns or severe injuries
- People with infections such as
- cellulitis, or
- urinary tract infection
For Those Who are Pregnant
For those who are pregnant, extra vigilance is needed. Some infections-those which are only a nuisance in healthy people who aren't pregnant-can lead to problems in pregnancy. Several infections can lead to miscarriage and stillbirth while others can result in birth defects. That said, you don't need to go through your pregnancy fretting. The measures for preventing infections listed above are very effective in reducing your risk.
For Those Who are hospitalized
Hospital-acquired infections, known as 'socomial infections' are a significant cause of death in the United States and around the world. Not only is the hospital a literal breeding ground for nasty bacteria, but many of these bacteria have developed resistance to many antibiotics. Check out these tips for avoiding hospital-acquired infections.
For Those Who are Immunosuppressed, on Chemotherapy
For those who are receiving chemotherapy, are infected with HIV, or are immunosuppressed in some other way, a little extra fortitude is needed to protect against microscopic menaces. Bacteria which do not cause infections in people with healthy immune systems can become a problem (opportunistic infections,) and these people may also become much sicker when exposed to infections. From infections transmitted by pets to food-borne infections, there are several things you will need to know about infections that go beyond the prevention tips listed above. Learn about lowering your risk of infection during chemotherapy or when your immune system is suppressed for some other reason.
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