September is Sepsis Awareness Month, yet many people still don’t know exactly what sepsis is and why it presents such a health danger, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Generally speaking, sepsis is the body’s response to infection that, if left unchecked, can have unintended consequences such as organ failure, tissue damage and death. Although sepsis can occur in anyone at any age, children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems (including patients impacted by COVID-19) may be at higher risk.
If not identified and treated quickly, sepsis can progress into a life-threatening situation, making rapid diagnosis and intervention crucial. Symptoms can include high or low body temperature, fatigue, confusion, mental decline, and severe pain or illness.1
Sepsis is the leading cause of readmissions and patient deaths in U.S. hospitals, resulting in approximately 6 percent of all hospitalizations and 35 percent of all in-hospital deaths.2
In the age of novel coronavirus, sepsis appears to be one of the most common complications that can occur in critically ill COVID-19 patients.
While much is still unknown about COVID-19, in cases where the virus triggers severe pneumonia and lung injury requiring mechanical ventilation, the possibility of sepsis is a very real concern. Also, because sepsis survivors may find themselves with weakened immunity and at higher risk for contracting infections post recovery, it’s especially important for them to take mindful precautions against coronavirus exposure.3
There are three main types of sepsis — bacterial, viral and fungal, each with its own cause and immune response. In the hospital setting, the lungs are the most frequent site of bacterial sepsis, which is particularly concerning if a patient is already experiencing respiratory distress due to COVID-19 infection.
When a patient presents to the hospital in respiratory distress, healthcare workers may identify the cause of the distress using procalcitonin (PCT) in conjunction with other biomarkers such as IL-6, clinical history and physical exams. As PCT levels rise, so does the risk of developing sepsis from a bacterial infection. In these instances, measuring and monitoring the patient’s PCT can help to determine whether a bacterial co-infection exists if levels are above 0.1ng/mL. This correlation can provide clear support for antibiotic therapies in patients with suspected or confirmed sepsis, pneumonia or other conditions caused by bacterial infection.
Sepsis takes a life every two minutes, but early detection and treatment may help to prevent up to 80 percent of sepsis-related deaths.4 To learn more, visit sepsis.org.