Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition and should be treated as a medical emergency. The immune system’s reaction to an infection can cause injury to body tissues that are not near the original infection site.
Early and aggressive treatment increases the patient’s chances of survival and close monitoring is required. Recovery from mild sepsis is common, but mortality rates are approximately 15% and mortality rate for severe sepsis or septic shock is approximately 50%. For MRSA patients the mortality rate is 20 – 50%.
Other terms that have been used besides sepsis are: bacteremia, septicemia and blood poisoning. It is important that sepsis be identified and treated as soon as possible and ideally within the first hour of symptoms occurring. Sepsis that is not detected can affect organ function and lead to septic shock and dangerous drops in blood pressure.
Many patients who have MRSA infections can become septic while waiting for their clinical cultures to return from the lab to identify the pathogen after admitted to the hospital. Prescribing vancomycin for MRSA or other IV antibiotics that react well to MRSA is imperative along with fluids. For this reason, it is strongly recommended that rapid DNA PCR testing for MRSA (screening) be used by hospitals and labs to detect the correct organism or pathogen.
Using rapid testing will save lives and reduce the effects and damage caused by sepsis.
Most sepsis cases occur in patients within the hospital and in the intensive care unit (ICU). Risk factors are age, race (black), compromised immune system, hospitalization with invasive medical devices (i.e. breathing tubes, urinary catheter, artificial joints), pneumonia, diabetes and severe injuries.
- Fever > 101.3 F or below 95 F
- Heart rate faster than 90 beats per minute
- Fast respiratory rate
- Edema (swelling)
- Probable or confirmed infection
- Altered mental state (disorientated/coma)
Severe sepsis has occurred if one of the following categories is exhibited and indicates organ dysfunction:
- Difficulty in breathing
- Abnormal heart function
- Rapid change in mental status
- Mottled skin
- Decrease in platelet count
- Raid decrease in urine output
Severe sepsis can turn into septic shock, which includes the above mentioned severe sepsis symptoms besides extremely low blood pressure.
As sepsis increases and worsens, blood flow to vital organs (heart, kidneys, brain,) decreases and can cause blood clots to form in organs and in the extremities. This can lead to varying degrees of organ failure and tissue death (gangrene).
Sepsis diagnosis can be difficult and symptoms and signs can be from various disorders. Doctors may order the following tests to determine the underlying infection.
- Blood tests
- Urine test
- Imaging scans – x-rays, CT, MRI or ultrasound
Antibiotics by IV are given immediately along with fluids and possibly vasopressors or other medications to modify the immune system and maintain stable sugar levels. A machine for breathing, dialysis or surgery to remove sources of infection can also be implemented.