Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection. Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight the infection trigger inflammatory responses throughout the body. This inflammation can trigger a cascade of changes that can damage multiple organ systems, causing them to fail.
According to the Global Sepsis Alliance, a worldwide alliance of health care providers working to increase knowledge about the problem, the majority of sepsis cases are caused by common infections. Pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections like cellulitis and infections in the abdomen (such as appendicitis) can cause sepsis, as well as invasive medical procedures like the insertion of a catheter into a blood vessel.
With a mortality rate of over 10%, sepsis is among the seven most common causes of death in North America and parts of Europe. Mortality increases further for every hour the patient goes without treatment in the form of antibiotics and fluids.
If sepsis progresses to septic shock, blood pressure drops dramatically, which may lead to death.
Researchers at Levanger Hospital in Nord-Trøndelag, Norway were able to cut the number of patients who died from sepsis by 40% (from 12.5% to 7.1%) after the introduction of relatively simple steps at the wards.
The steps, which included increased training and a special observation chart, were introduced as part of a research project carried out by Nord University, Levanger Hospital, and the Mid-Norway Centre for Sepsis Research at NTNU and St. Olavs Hospital in Trondheim, Norway.
In their study, the researchers created a flow-chart for the identification of sepsis and an observation chart with a severity score that nurses at Levanger Hospital could use at the ward (for triage). Doctors who worked in the ward were given written information, whereas nurses and nursing students were given a 4-hour training course, and the treatment course was standardized with clear guidelines for doctors and nurses.
In addition to increasing survival, the use of these measures reduced the development of serious sepsis during hospital stays by 30% and the number of days in intensive care was reduced by an average of 3.7 days per patient, thus making the methods not only life-saving, but simple and cost effective.