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Learn About Sepsis-Knowing the early signs can help save lives

You may have heard of a medical condition called sepsis. But, do you know how serious it can be, what the symptoms are, or who can be affected?

The Sepsis Alliance states that sepsis is “the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death.” Severe sepsis strikes more than one million Americans every year. This is more than the number of Americans who die annually from prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). The Institute also reports that the number of cases of sepsis in the U.S. is on the rise.

Certain infections and germs are more likely to lead to sepsis. These include infections of the lungs (pneumonia), urinary tract, skin and gut.

Anyone can get sepsis. Those who are most vulnerable are:

  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Children and infants
  • The elderly

You are also at increased risk of getting sepsis if you have a chronic illness, like diabetes, AIDS, cancer, or kidney or liver disease, or if you have suffered a severe burn or physical trauma.

Two well-known victims of sepsis were Muppets creator Jim Henson, who died at age 53 after having pneumonia, and Pope John Paul II, who died at age 84 after a urinary tract infection.

“Sepsis, or septicemia, is one of the most common reasons Americans go to the hospital. It can be very deadly,” said Carmencita Agcaoili, MD, medical director of Critical Care at Washington Hospital. “But, if sepsis is diagnosed in the early stages, the chances for survival are better.”

Although many people with sepsis are hospitalized, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states sepsis starts outside of the hospital nearly 80 percent of the time. That is why it is important to build public awareness about the signs and symptoms of this potentially deadly condition.

Free sepsis seminar

During September—Sepsis Awareness Month—you can learn more about sepsis at a free community seminar called “Learn about Signs & Symptoms of Sepsis.” It will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 27 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, MD, Auditorium of the Washington West building next to Washington Hospital.

Dr. Agcaoili and Katie Choy, RN, the Hospital’s senior director of nursing practice and education, will lead the class. For more information or to reserve your spot, go online to and click on “Events.” Then, select “September 27” on the calendar or, call 800.963.7070.

“When it comes to sepsis, timing can make all the difference to the outcome,” added Dr. Agcaoili. “We should think of this condition as a time-sensitive illness, the way we do with stroke or heart attack.”

Reducing the sepsis death rate

Sepsis is unpredictable. It can develop rapidly and get worse very quickly. It is a major challenge in hospital intensive care units, where it is one of the leading causes of death.

During the past nine years, Washington Hospital has worked hard to reduce the mortality rate of sepsis patients. Its mortality rate for sepsis patients is now well below the average rate at hospitals across the country. To achieve this improvement, the Hospital adopted quality initiatives with its staff and physicians and collaborated with other hospitals and experts in the field of critical care medicine. It has also mounted an aggressive public education and awareness campaign in the community. The sepsis class on Sept. 27, is part of that campaign.

Learn more

To find out more, including how to prevent sepsis and detect the early signs so you can help avoid a more severe infection, come to the free community seminar “Learn about Signs & Symptoms of Sepsis” on Sept. 27. To sign up, go online to or call 800.963.7070.

Signs of sepsis

According to the CDC, sepsis is usually a combination of one or more of these symptoms:

  • Shivering, fever or feeling very cold
  • Extreme pain or general discomfort
  • Clammy or sweaty skin
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Shortness of breath
  • High heart rate

Since it is the result of an infection, symptoms of sepsis can also include diarrhea, vomiting or sore throat.