Deadly Sepsis on the Rise, and Not Just in Hospitals

Sepsis can be deadly—the condition is fatal in up to 30 percent of cases. While some patients develop sepsis while in the hospital, a new report out today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 80 percent of cases are acquired outside of the hospital.

Triggered by an immune response to an infection, sepsis is difficult to diagnose and treat, according to the CDC, and can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. Sepsis cases in the U.S. nearly doubled from 2000 to 2010, the CDC reported, and more than 250,000 Americans now die each year because of it.

Cases of sepsis acquired while in the hospital are usually associated with a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia or appendicitis. But the CDC’s report says that, in 70 percent of cases, sepsis develops in a patient who recently visited his or her healthcare provider and/or had a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes.

Infections most commonly associated with sepsis involve the respiratory, digestive, or urinary tracts or the skin. In hospitalized patients, the condition often begins with an infection that originates around an IV or surgical wound or drain, or in an area where the skin has broken down—bed sores, for example. A sepsis diagnosis is based on a combination of lab tests and evidence of infection.

Adults over age 65 are three times more likely than younger patients to develop sepsis within three months of being discharged from the hospital, according to a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in May 2015. Babies under the age of 1 and people with a weakened immune system are also at increased risk.

To lower your risk of developing sepsis, make sure all your immunizations are up to date, wash your hands often, and clean open wounds properly.

Hospitalized patients and their family members or caregivers should ask healthcare providers to remove catheters and IV lines as soon as they are no longer needed and should report early symptoms of sepsis—fever, chills, confusion, rapid breathing and heart rate, decreased urination, pain, shortness of breath, and skin rash—promptly. Immediate treatment, which involves intravenous antibiotics and fluid, and medications to regulate blood pressure, can help improve outcomes.

"When sepsis occurs, it should be treated as a medical emergency,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D. “Doctors and nurses can prevent sepsis and its devastating effects. Patients and families can watch for sepsis and ask, ‘Could this be sepsis’?"

Learn How to Prevent Sepsis and Why Sepsis Can Be Deadly.