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How to prevent sepsis, a serious medical condition

Anyone can get sepsis following an infection from the flu, a UTI or even a bug bite. Find out more about preventing this life-threatening condition.

September 09, 2022
Computer graphic of red and white blood cells, along with sepsis, traveling in the body.

Sepsis is a medical emergency and requires immediate, specialized medical care. Once thought to be a form of blood poisoning, doctors now know this life-threatening condition is the body's overwhelming immune response to a bacterial, viral or fungal infection. According to the CDC, at least 1.7 million American adults develop sepsis annually. Here’s how to recognize and prevent sepsis.

Sepsis symptoms

Sepsis must be caught and treated quickly. According to the Sepsis Alliance, every hour that a septic patient goes without treatment, their risk of death increases nearly eight percent. Because many of the symptoms of sepsis are the same for many other conditions, it can be hard to recognize in its early stages. If someone has an infection that’s not getting better, a wound that won’t heal or any of the signs and symptoms of sepsis below, call 911 or go to the closest ER.

  • Rapid heart rate or weak pulse
  • Shortness of breath; rapid, shallow breathing
  • Fever, shivers, feeling very cold
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Extremely sleepy, difficult to rouse
  • Clammy, sweaty, pale skin
  • Extreme pain or discomfort

Who is at risk for sepsis?

Sepsis can affect anyone at any age, regardless of physical fitness. However, some people are at increased risk, including:

  • Adults 65 and older
  • Children less than one year old
  • People with
    • Chronic medical conditions
    • Weakened immune systems
    • Previous history of sepsis
    • Recent severe illness or hospitalization

Conditions that can lead to sepsis

While sepsis can be caused by just about any type of infection, including COVID-19 and flu, leading causes of sepsis include infections of:

  • The lungs, such as pneumonia — including as a secondary infection of flu and RSV
  • Abdominal infections, including appendicitis and kidney infections
  • Bladder and urinary tract infections (UTI)
  • Bloodstream infections (septicemia or bacteremia)
  • Catheter sites
  • Burns or wounds

Sepsis prevention

Here are some steps you can take to help prevent sepsis:

  • Manage chronic conditions; keep appointments for checkups and take your medications as directed by your doctor
  • Stay current on recommended vaccines; everyone six months of age and older should get an annual flu shot
  • Scrub germs off by washing your hands
  • Keep cuts clean, dry and covered until healed

To help decrease sepsis deaths in North Texas, Medical City North Hills has partnered with the North Richland Hills Fire Department to administer lifesaving sepsis treatment in the field. The hospital staff trains paramedics to recognize the symptoms of sepsis and deliver antibiotics to patients immediately, while they are on the way to the hospital. The program, called Code Sepsis, has already saved dozens of lives, including that of 78-year-old Joyce Shore. Shore had been unable to move off her couch for four days and credits North Richland Hills paramedics for identifying septic shock and saving her life.

If you believe that someone may have a life-threatening illness or injury, call 911 immediately.

At Medical City Healthcare, we're dedicated to the care and improvement of human life. So, we hope you'll Take Care!

For more information, call our Ask a Nurse hotline 24/7 or use Find a Doctor online.

Medical City Healthcare provides comprehensive emergency services across North Texas.

You can also get care for minor injuries or illness at one of the many DFW CareNow® Urgent Care locations, with convenient Web Check-In® so you can wait in the comfort of your home.

Published:
September 09, 2022

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