Sepsis: Spot the signs, act fast


ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Anyone can get an infection, and almost every infection—including COVID-19—can lead to sepsis. One in three patients who dies at a hospital has sepsis, and pregnant women are among those at higher risk.

Sepsis occurs when an infection you already have, from the flu to tonsillitis, to a skin infection, triggers a life-threatening chain reaction throughout your body. “We get a lot of patients, especially the elderly, that come to the emergency department,” said Dr. Nadia Jandali, Head of Wellness for St. Peter’s Hospital Emergency Departments. “The spouse will say, ‘They’re just not acting right. I think maybe they’re having a stroke.’”

Along with confusion, Dr. Jandali says fever, high heart rate, and low blood pressure are other signs of sepsis—an extreme response to an infection that, without antibiotics in a timely manner, can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. “Every hour of delay of diagnosis of sepsis and delay of treatment can increase risk of death by about 8%,” Jandali said. 

Everyone’s at risk, but especially the elderly, babies, those with weakened immune systems or chronic medical conditions, and those recently ill or hospitalized. “Anyone can get it and it is like getting hit by lightning,” said Dr. Alan Sanders, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Albany Medical Center. “They can be the healthiest folks in the world, and they get a bad bacteria that has a predilection to progress to sepsis.”

Dr. Sanders says pregnant women can be at greater risk because the immune system weakens in the third trimester. “The body doesn’t want to recognize that growing baby as foreign,” he said. “Those women are at risk for developing infections that may be much worse than if they were not pregnant.”

You can get ahead of sepsis by preventing infections, practicing good hygiene when it comes to cuts, knowing the symptoms, and acting fast. “Please, bring them in! Have them be evaluated,” Jandali said. “Even mention to the provider who’s seeing your loved one, ‘I’m concerned about sepsis. Do you think this could be sepsis?’ A delay in diagnosis can be deadly for a lot of people.”

Time matters when it comes to sepsis. As many as 80% of sepsis deaths could be prevented with rapid treatment. While it’s sometimes known as a hospital infection, the infection starts outside of the hospital in nearly 87% of cases, according to the CDC.

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