What is Sepsis and what are the signs?
Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening infection which spreads throughout the body via the bloodstream. Sepsis is defined as “life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection.” In lay terms, sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs.
Typical signs that indicate that someone has sepsis include low blood pressure which causes poor circulation and lack of blood flow to vital organs and tissues throughout the body. This lack of blood flow can cause organs to be damaged or even fail in extreme circumstances. Sepsis can also cause blood clots to form in your organs and in your arms, legs, fingers, and toes — leading to varying degrees of organ failure and tissue death (gangrene).
Most hospitals will diagnose someone with sepsis if they have one or more of the following symptoms:
- A body temperature which is either higher than 101 Degrees F, or lower than 96.8 Degrees F
- A heart rate which is higher than 90 beats per minute
- Respiratory rate which is higher than 20 breaths per minute
More severe forms of sepsis can include the following symptoms:
- Significantly decreased urine output
- Abrupt change in mental status
- Decrease in platelet count
- Difficulty breathing
- Abnormal heart pumping function
- Abdominal pain
How does a person get Sepsis? What should you do if you believe you have Sepsis?
Sepsis is most common when either an elderly person or a very young person has an infection, such as pneumonia, abdominal infection, kidney infection, or bloodstream infection. According to the CDC, the number of sepsis cases in the United States increases every year. In fact, the NIH reports that sepsis causes more U.S. deaths than prostate cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined. Possible reasons for the increase include:
- An aging population because sepsis is more common in seniors
- An increase in antibiotic resistance, which happens when an antibiotic loses its ability to resist or kill bacteria
- An increase in the number of people with illnesses that weaken their immune systems
If you believe that either you or a loved one has acquired a sepsis infection, you should act fast. The first thing you should do is contact your doctor and let them know about the symptoms you have been having. The medical professional will be able to determine whether or not you actually have sepsis. If you are not feeling any better and symptoms get worse, you should immediately go to your local ER and ask to be evaluated for a possible sepsis infection.
How is Sepsis treated? How is it prevented?
Sepsis is a very serious infection, and if left untreated can turn into septic shock. The most common form of treatment for Sepsis is medication. The following medications are commonly used to fight the infection:
- antibiotics (if the infection is caught early)
- intravenous fluids
- central lines- The central line is inserted into a large vein in your groin, chest or neck. Because these special IVs are in a large vein, they can stay in place for several weeks or longer, eliminating the need to keep restarting IVs in the more delicate veins in the arm. However, a drawback is that these larger veins give more direct access to the heart, and infections can become very serious very fast.
- other means of organ support as necessary
In addition to the above causes, if you have a surgical site infection, are on a ventilator for pneumonia, or have a urinary tract infection, you may be at a higher risk of contracting a sepsis infection. According to the CDC, there are three main ways to reduce the risk of developing a sepsis infection including:
- Make sure you are up to date on your vaccinations including your flu and pneumonia vaccinations
- Always clean any open wounds to prevent infection
- And be sure to wash your hands frequently
- If you have an infection, make sure you look out for possible signs of an infection and seek medical help immediately if you have fever, chills, elevated heart rate or rapid breathing, etc.
Unfortunately, even if these precautions are taken, sepsis is usually fatal in approximately 50-60 percent of elderly adults. If the infection is caught early enough, the chances of survival are much higher.
Can a hospital be liable for your sepsis infection?
The answer is most certainly yes!
Hospitals have a duty to properly diagnose and subsequently treat any infection. If the infection is not treated immediately, the bacteria from the infection can do tremendous damage to the major organs in the body. If a hospital or medical facility fails to properly identify an infection either by misdiagnosing the problem or missing the diagnosis altogether, they can be on the hook for the resulting damages.
Even if a patient does not enter a hospital with an existing infection, they may develop what is known as a hospital-acquired infection, or HAI.
These infections are typically caused by the negligence of hospital staff because they fail to properly sterilize equipment, fail to practice safe sanitation, or fail to adequately treat open sores such as bedsores or wounds following surgery.
If you have had any type of intervention that causes a break in your skin or introduces a piece of medical equipment inside your body, there’s a new path that bacteria can follow to cause an infection. The hospital staff can be held liable for failing to examine the patient and properly diagnose a patient who is showing signs of a sepsis infection.
Some interesting statistics about HAI’s can be found on the CDC website and include the following:
In 2014, results of a project known as the HAI Prevalence Survey were published. The Survey described the burden of HAIs in U.S. hospitals and reported that, in 2011, there were an estimated 722,000 HAIs in U.S. acute care hospitals (see chart below). Additionally, about 75,000 patients with HAIs died during their hospitalizations. More than half of all HAIs occurred outside of the intensive care unit.
Above chart from CDC
What should you do today?
At the Dolman Law Group, we are committed to getting justice for our clients. If you or someone you know developed a sepsis infection as the result of negligent treatment at a hospital or other medical facility, please feel free to reach out to us to discuss your case.
Hospitals should be held responsible for their negligent treatment, especially when that negligence is the cause of a severe infection or wrongful death. If you feel as though you may have a case and would like to talk to an experienced attorney, please call our office and ask for Attorney Geoffery Pfeiffer. He will be able to address any questions or concerns you may have and will be able to evaluate your potential case quickly.
The dedicated personal injury attorneys at Dolman Law Group in Clearwater, Florida, have the knowledge, skill, and compassion to advocate for your right to recovery after a sepsis infection, so please contact us online or call us at 727-451-6900 for a free consultation today.