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Friday, January 6, 2012

The killer most have never heard of

"Sepsis." This is, after all, the second decade of the 21st center. Could severe, overwhelming infection be more than an anomaly? Could it still be an important cause of death? 

Not only are these infections often fatal, but the rate of severe sepsis is increasing.  Who is at risk?  Persons at the extremes of the lifespan.  Premature infants (and to a lesser extent, infants up to a year of age). And seniors.  1400 persons die each day of sepsis worldwide.  This is a greater incidence than death from breast cancer or colon cancer.  And this rate is increasing due to the use of advanced treatments for elderly patients and the increasing life span.

Sepsis involves an interaction between the body's immune system and invading organisms, most often (though not always) bacteria.  When the body's own infection-fighting forces spin out of control, the result is damage to organs and collapse of the life sustaining circulatory and respiratory systems.

The contemporary management of sepsis involves early recognition (of signs of infection plus evidence of organ system dysfunction) and early intervention with intravenous fluids, broad-spectrum antibiotics, and sometimes other medications that regulate the heart and circulation.

I am very proud that Huntington Hospital and the North Shore LIJ Health System are collaborating with the prestigious Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in a new project to reduce sepsis mortality by 50%.   At a meeting in Huntington earlier today, hospital, Health system and IHI leaders discussed next steps to optimize early identification and intervention for this important condition.  Our successes in this area of quality improvement and research will not only benefit the members of our community, but also pave the way to spread knowledge and improved practice on a national level.

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