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Infections Can Cause 'Blood Poisoning'

August 07, 2012

Learn the Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis at Washington Hospital Seminar

Without proper treatment, ordinary infections can become so severe that they cause an overwhelming immune response called sepsis as the body fights the infection. This life-threatening condition can make people very sick.

"With sepsis, chemicals released into the blood to fight the infection trigger widespread inflammation, which can restrict blood flow and cause organs to shut down," said Dr. Kadeer Halimi, who specializes in emergency medicine at Washington Hospital. "Some people call sepsis blood poisoning."

To help raise awareness about this dangerous condition, Halimi will present "Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis" with Brenda Brennan, a registered nurse who also specializes in emergency medicine at Washington Hospital. The free seminar will be held on Tuesday, August 14, from 1 to 3 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. You can register online at www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070 for more information.

"It's important for people to know the signs and symptoms of sepsis, particularly if they are at high risk, because early intervention is critical," Halimi said. "We want to make sure people know when to seek medical attention."

Bacteria are the most common cause, but other microbes like viruses and fungi can also cause sepsis, he explained. Pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections, appendicitis, and meningitis can all lead to sepsis if the infection spreads.

"Any infection can turn into sepsis," Halimi added. "That's why we really need to be diligent about clearing up infections with proper treatment."

The symptoms include fever, chills and severe shaking, rapid breathing, and low blood pressure. Often one of the first signs of sepsis is an altered mental state such as confusion and agitation. Dizziness can also occur. Some people with sepsis also develop a rash on their skin and may experience pain in their joints.

Anyone can get sepsis, although Halimi said those most at risk for sepsis are people with compromised immune systems due to illnesses like diabetes and AIDS, and medical treatments such as chemotherapy and steroids. Babies and the elderly also have an increased risk because they have weaker immune systems.

"Medications that suppress the immune system increase the risk for developing sepsis," he added.

Early Treatment is Critical

Treating sepsis at an early stage is critical, according to Halimi. Washington Hospital has a sepsis protocol in place so that physicians and nurses can immediately recognize the signs and symptoms of sepsis and implement an aggressive treatment plan.

"We start administering antibiotics and fluids immediately to fight the infection and stabilize blood pressure," he explained. "The faster we can get the treatment started, the better outcomes we see for our patients."

People with severe sepsis require close monitoring and treatment in the hospital intensive care unit. If the patient has severe sepsis or septic shock, lifesaving measures may be needed to stabilize breathing and heart function, Halimi added.

About 750,000 people in this country get sepsis each year and an estimated 28 to 50 percent of them die from the condition - far more than the number of U.S. deaths from prostate cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined - according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The number of sepsis cases per year has been on the rise in the United States. The NIH attributes this rise to an aging population, the increased longevity of people with chronic diseases, the spread of antibiotic-resistant organisms, an upsurge in invasive procedures, and broader use of medications that suppress the immune system.

The use of antibiotics over the last few decades has increased, causing many strains of bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics, making infections more difficult to treat, Halimi explained.

He said those who are at higher risk for sepsis should be vigilant about reducing their chances of getting an infection and then closely monitoring any infections they do get. They should also try to avoid coming in contact with people who are sick or have skin infections, he added.

"It's important to remember that anyone can get sepsis and any infection can get out of control and cause sepsis," Halimi said. "That's why everyone should know the signs and symptoms of this potentially deadly medical condition."

To learn about other classes and seminars offered at Washington Hospital, visit www.whhs.com.

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