What is sepsis and why should you be concerned about it? Health care providers
regularly warn about the dangers of developing sepsis following surgery
or as a complication of other illnesses.
Sepsis is a severe illness caused by an infection that can begin anywhere
in the body. It can be life-threatening and affect anyone. Nationally,
more than 100,000 cases of sepsis occur each year with a 28.2% percent
mortality rate in 2014.
“It’s very important to be aware of the signs and symptoms
of sepsis so that the person affected can be treated as quickly as possible,”
says Dr. Carmen Agcaoili, critical care pulmonologist and medical director
of the Intensivist Program and Critical Care Units at Washington Hospital.
Left unchecked, sepsis is deadly.
When you have an infection, your body sets your immune system to work to
fight it, Dr. Agcaoili explains. Normally, the immune system, often aided
by medication, rest and other strategies, is successful in defeating the
Sepsis occurs when the immune system’s reaction is excessive and
becomes more than the body can tolerate. Organs in the body, including
the kidneys, may stop functioning, and the patient may go into septic
shock. This progression, often leading to death, can happen very quickly,
Sepsis is easily controlled if you know the symptoms to watch for, Dr.
A. explains. “It’s not unlike being aware of the symptoms
of a heart attack or stroke. If you know what to look for and act quickly,
the infection can be treated effectively.”
To educate the public about sepsis and its symptoms, Washington Hospital
is offering a free community seminar, “The Signs and Symptoms of
Sepsis,” from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesday, August 4. The seminar, led
by Dr. Agcaoili, will be in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms
A & B, Washington West, 2500 Mowry Avenue, in Fremont.
While anyone can develop sepsis, those who are more vulnerable include
the elderly, infants, individuals with weak immune systems or those undergoing
chemotherapy. People with diabetes, cancer or chronic illnesses such as
kidney, lung or liver disease also are at increased risk.
Key signs to watch for are a fever; a possible source of infection such
as a sore throat, pneumonia or an open wound; and confusion or altered
consciousness on the part of the affected person, Dr. Agcaoili says.
“If someone suddenly develops a fever, becomes confused or doesn’t
seem ‘quite right,’ the best thing you can do is to get that
person to the Emergency Room for evaluation,” she adds. “Just
like a possible heart attack or stroke, it always is best to act quickly.
The old saying: ‘Better Safe Than Sorry’ certainly comes into
For the past several years, Washington Hospital has been successful in
reducing its sepsis mortality rate to less than 8 to 10 percent, significantly
lower than the national average. A key has been implementing a “Sepsis
Bundle” which is a group of proven interventions that, when completed
quickly (generally within three to six hours of the patient’s arrival
in the Emergency Room), can produce a better outcome for the patient.
The “bundle” steps include checking the lactic acid level in
the blood, drawing blood cultures, giving a broad spectrum of antibiotics
and fluids and administering drugs that help increase blood pressure to
a normal level.
Washington Hospital’s Sepsis Project was initiated in 2007 with a
generous grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and a supplemental
grant in 2008. The program coordinated by Katie Choy, RN, CNS has focused
on the Emergency Room, Intensive Care and Medical/Surgical units with
protocols to recognize sepsis quickly and to initiate aggressive treatment.
Washington hospital was accepted as part of the National Surviving Sepsis
Campaign Collaborative (60 participating hospitals) and partnered with
the Alameda Emergency Medical Services and Highland Hospital in sepsis
To register for the August 4, 2015 seminar on the signs and symptoms of
sepsis, visit whhs.com/seminars or call (800) 963-7070.