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When Seconds Count: Identifying and treating sepsis

If you’ve heard the word sepsis and have ignored it — or don’t know what it is or why it matters — you are not alone. Nearly half of Americans have never heard of the condition and more than a third cannot identify all of the symptoms.

In a nutshell, sepsis is the body's faulty, drastic reaction to an infection. This often leads to tissue damage, organ failure, and even death. It is most dangerous in young children and the elderly as well as those with a weakened immune system or chronic illness.

“Sepsis is now the most expensive in-hospital condition in America. In fact, it is responsible for more deaths in America than AIDS, prostate cancer and breast cancer combined,” said Philip Efron, M.D., co-director of Laboratory of Inflammation Biology and Surgical Science and part of the UF Sepsis and Critical Illness Research Center.

Unfortunately, there are over one million cases of sepsis each year in the U.S. and it is the nation’s third leading killer with more than 258,000 deaths annually (more than AIDS, prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers sepsis a medical emergency, similar to a stroke or heart attack. Time is the enemy for patients with sepsis as their bodies are mounting a massive, life-threatening response to infection that can destroy tissue and damage organs in a matter of minutes. With sepsis, seconds count!

What can you to do help prevent sepsis?

“Get all recommended vaccines. Make sure to practice good hygiene practices with cuts and wounds to prevent infection. These can help reduce your risk of sepsis. Also, if there is an infection, stay alert to possible sepsis symptoms (such as chills, fever, rapid heart beat or breathing) and get immediate medical treatment. Catching sepsis early can reduce lifelong complications and be lifesaving,” Dr. Efron said.

Additionally, education of the signs and symptoms, which include fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, rash, confusion and disorientation, can save a life. Ask, “Could it be sepsis?” and get immediate medical attention if you suspect sepsis is present.

Be aware that the elderly (≥65 years old), premature infants or children less than 1 year old, patients with weakened immune systems and chronic, serious illnesses are the most at risk for sepsis, including intensive care unit (ICU) patients after surgery or trauma.

Physicians, nurses and all staff at UF Health have new tools and procedures to identify sepsis and respond quickly with treatment. We have a review committee who analyzes sepsis cases to improve care and scientists at the UF Sepsis and Critical Illness Research Center are working to prevent sepsis, minimize its damage and improve long-term survival.

In fact, UF Health is at the forefront at implementing all the recommendations of the CDC, which include:

• Preventing infections • Educating patients and families • Acting fast, and • Reassess patient management

With education, awareness and patient monitoring, we can stop sepsis in its tracks.

About the author

For the media

Media contact

Peyton Wesner
Communications Manager for UF Health External Communications (352) 273-9620