CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. – One of the most pressing health threats can be difficult to diagnose and most people don’t even know what it is. In the last few weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared it a “medical emergency.”
Sepsis, or septicemia, is a life-threatening infection of the bloodstream that affects more than 250,000 people each year and progresses in severity rapidly. If not diagnosed and treated quickly, it can cause lasting tissue damage, organ failure or even death.
Over the last year, Summit Health affiliates like Chambersburg Hospital and Waynesboro Hospital have created a Sepsis Team to address the urgent need to diagnose sepsis quickly and educate the public.
“As with stroke, a quick response to sepsis is correlated with a more favorable outcome,” said Summit Health Vice President and Chief Medical Innovation Officer David Hoffmann, DO.
He noted that sepsis often is misperceived as something that primarily occurs in hospitals.
“National data has shown that sepsis begins outside of the hospital for almost 80-percent of patients,” said Dr. Hoffmann. “However, the CDC has also found that seven in 10 sepsis patients have chronic diseases requiring frequent care or recently sought medical attention. So, it’s vital we protect our patients by preventing infections and recognizing the signs of sepsis quickly.”
Sepsis can happen to people of all ages and most often strikes individuals 65 and older or infants younger than 1 year old. Those with weakened immune systems or with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes have an increased risk for sepsis.
While sepsis can occur in healthy individuals, it commonly develops out of untreated infections of the lung, urinary tract, skin and gut, according to the CDC.
The Sepsis Team is working to help increase awareness and also provide rapid response if it is suspected a patient being cared for has sepsis.
As part of the awareness effort, the team has kicked off a multi-faceted campaign with the premise, “Don’t be shocked. Think sepsis.”
There are six signs medical professionals look for when evaluating the possibility of sepsis:
- Fever, shivering or feeling very cold
- Extreme pain or discomfort
- Clammy or sweaty skin
- Confusion or disorientation
- Shortness of breath
- High heart rate
“Alone, these symptoms can mean something different,” explained Dr. Hoffmann. “Together, they mean sepsis could be present and the need for medical treatment is urgent. If treated quickly, recovery is possible.”