Experts call sepsis a medical emergency, leading cause of death in US hospitals


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — September is Sepsis Awareness Month and experts say, in short, sepsis is the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to an infection.

If left untreated, sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, or death. Al Cardillo with the Home Care Association of New York State, says it should be treated as a medical emergency; sadly awareness is lacking. 

“Even in the medical community it’s very often something that is confused with another situation, another problem,” says Cardillo.

According to the Sepsis Alliance, each year there are 1.7 million cases in the US with 270,000 deaths annually– deadlier than breast cancer, prostate cancer, and AIDS combined. They say sepsis is also the number one cause of death in US hospitals. 

“So we’ve always had an appreciation for sepsis as a serious health condition,” says Dr. Thomas Caprio with UR Medicine Home Care. He says over the years they have increased their sepsis screenings to help identify it early, especially in their home care programs. 

“Over 40% of our patients are screening positive for sepsis so that allows us to be able to intervene early on,” says Caprio.

Dr. Chris Chimenti with HCR Home Care says those with comorbidities must be aware. “Particularly those with conditions such as heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or diabetes,” he says.

Signs of sepsis include a high fever, chills, fast heart rate, and confusion. The biggest thing to remember says Cardillo is ‘TIME’, which stands for Temperature (higher or lower than normal), Infection, Mental decline, and Extremely ill.

Infections can occur at home, or at the hospital. Jillian Thibault has survived sepsis multiple times, “I’ve been in the ICU many times, almost lost my life,” she says, adding, “people could go in with a bee sting and end up septic. It’s scary,” adds Thibault.

Cardillo says when in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask. “To actually say, when they speak to the hospital, to the doctor: “I think it might be sepsis,'” he says.

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