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Sepsis is a general term used to characterize an immune system response to an infection.  This means that a viral, fungal, or bacterial infection of the lungs (pneumonia), kidneys, bloodstream (bacteriemia), or abdomen can lead to sepsis.  This potentially life-threatening condition is considered a medical emergency.

A new study shows that an aggressive treatment is the best way of dealing with sepsis.  This killer condition is the body’s reaction to infections.  The problem is that it is both hard to diagnose and treat.  People who have sepsis may not know that they have a problem until they enter septic shock.  As they reach this state, they become increasingly harder to save as their organs are shutting down.  So doctors have to turn to a fast and very aggressive treatment.

New York was the first among the US states to introduce a three-step guideline for detecting and treating sepsis.  The research team behind this new study monitored patients treated in this state.  They observed that treating sepsis fast and aggressively can actually save lives as almost every minute counts in such cases.  The risk of dying was estimated to increase by 4 percent for every hour that passes without treatment.

Sepsis strikes more than 1.5 million people in the United States a year and kills more than 250,000.  Even a minor infection can be the trigger.  A recent CDC study found nearly 80 percent of sepsis cases began outside of the hospital, not in patients already hospitalized because they were super-sick or recovering from surgery.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Ithan Peltan, said “Prompt initiation of appropriate antibiotics is the cornerstone of high-quality sepsis care, a fact emphasized in Medicare quality measures and international guidelines.  Our findings suggest adequate staff and diagnostic resources are critical to effective sepsis care.  Hospitals should also consider sepsis care reorganization to bypass competing demands on clinicians and diagnostic resources.”

In addition to symptoms of infection, worrisome signs of sepsis can include shivering, a fever or feeling very cold; clammy or sweaty skin; confusion or disorientation; a rapid heartbeat or pulse; shortness of breath; or simply extreme pain or discomfort.  If you think you have an infection that is getting worse, seek medical attention immediately.

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