We are all in contact with bacteria 24/7. It's everywhere-- on us, our skin and on all surfaces. But doctors say when there's a breach in the skin or the immune system is compromised that bacteria can cause a bloodstream infection and ultimately what's called sepsis.
In Vermont, out of all deaths in 2011, 2012 and 2013, sepsis contributed to just 4 percent-5 percent of overall mortality, with 250 sepsis-related deaths in two of the years and 253 in the other. It contributed, but was not necessarily the cause of death. But for those who die in the hospital, the numbers look a lot different. A new nationwide study shows sepsis infections contribute to about half of all hospital deaths in the United States.
"I think the authors were really setting out to demonstrate what a large burden on the health care system sepsis is. I don't think they were necessarily trying to draw a direct causality between sepsis and death, they were just showing that a lot of these hospital deaths were associated with a diagnosis of sepsis," said Dr. Gil Allen, the director of critical care at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
It's common in hospitals because people are sick and comprised already. But the high number of deaths connected to sepsis was still surprising to many who work in medicine.
Allen says of the 1,000 cases of sepsis at Fletcher Allen last year, 85 percent of them were diagnosed on admission, not after. And the death rate? It's much lower than the nationwide average.
"There were 526 deaths at Fletcher Allen in the calendar year 2013 and about 34 percent of those had a primary or secondary diagnosis of sepsis," Allen said.
Again, a contributor, but not necessarily the cause of a person's death.
Fletcher Allen recently launched a new sepsis alert system designed to expedite therapy for patients coming into the emergency room with sepsis. They're looking for patients with increased heart and respiratory rates, a fever and possible sweating.
"And now we've got a system in place where the intensive care unit team is notified immediately, a bed assignment is made immediately and the hope is that we expedite the entire process of coming to the E.D., getting appropriate resuscitation, early antibiotic therapy, early transfer to the ICU and upfront, aggressive resuscitation," Allen said.
That's resuscitation with IV fluids to avoid septic shock. Allen says the efforts are expected to reduce mortality at hospitals in Vermont and nationwide.
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