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Sepsis is the reaction of the entire body to an infection. (Read about "Microorganisms") According to the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM), it results in a body wide inflammatory response to infection. There are different types of sepsis. They include:
It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that three quarter of a million people develop severe sepsis each year in the United States. Over 200,000 of them die. That is more deaths than claimed by breast, colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer combined (Read about "Breast Cancer" "Colorectal Cancer" "Pancreatic Cancer" "The Prostate"), according to SCCM. CDC now lists septicemia as one of the top 15 causes of death. The American Thoracic Society (ATS) says that septic shock is one of the most common causes of death in intensive care units around the country. The numbers are expected to keep climbing; the incidence rate has gone up over 300 percent in the past 20 years.
Anyone can develop sepsis from a simple infection. The elderly appear to be more at risk but that may be because they often already have other health issues. Others at higher risk include hospital patients and people already with infections or whose immune system (Read about "The Immune System") is compromised by other conditions such as injuries, burns, surgery or cancer. Even babies can get sepsis. Group B streptococcus is the most common cause of sepsis in newborns. (Read about "Group B Strep") Sepsis in newborns can also result if the newborn is infected by E. coli that has somehow gotten into the birth canal. (Read about "E. coli")
The exact reason that sepsis occurs is still under investigation. However, SCCM says it appears something goes wrong with the immune system, allowing inflammation throughout the body, excess blood clots and suppression of the system that breaks up clots. As a result, tiny blood clots form in internal organs and in limbs. The blood supply is cut down and that can lead to organ failure or loss of fingers, toes or even limbs.
SCCM says that a doctor will look for the following when making a diagnosis of sepsis.
Symptoms that may occur and give someone a suspicion they have sepsis according to SCCM and ATS include:
A fever of over 103 or one that lasts more than five days is a warning sign that the patient should be examined for sepsis, according to SCCM.
Time is of the essence. Sepsis can develop and progress quickly. The sooner treatment is started the better. The underlying reason for the infection can be treated with antibiotics (Read about "Antibiotics") or other methods. SCCM says that sometimes antibiotics can't be used because they will actually increase the problem. Support for major organs that are affected, such as the kidneys, sometimes is needed until the organs can start working again.
Late in 2001, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first biological treatment for sepsis. It is a genetically engineered protein that helps break-up the small clots that form. The drug, drotrecogin alfa, can increase the risk of serious bleeding, and is approved only for use in certain severe cases of sepsis.
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