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Signs of Infection & Sepsis: Commonly Misdiagnosed and Unnecessarily Fatal

Sepsis, a complication of infection that can be life-threatening if not treated properly, is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions among patients in the U.S. and is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals.1 Most often, sepsis occurs within the hospital setting and is a medical emergency. Without timely treatment, sepsis can rapidly progress to septic shock. Older patients, those with a compromised immune system, and patients that have recently undergone surgery are especially at risk for sepsis and should be monitored carefully.2

A healthcare provider's failure to recognize and treat sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and even death. However, with timely and proper medical treatment, injury and death from sepsis is often completely preventable. In the hospital setting, physicians and nurses are the critical link to preventing, recognizing, and treating sepsis: they must follow infection control requirements, know the signs and symptoms to identify and treat patients early, and act fast if sepsis is suspected. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, healthcare providers should:

1) prevent infection by following infection control requirements;

2) know the signs and symptoms of sepsis to identify and treat patients early;

3) act fast by ordering tests to determine if an infection is present, where it is, and what caused it, start antibiotics and other medical care immediately, and document antibiotic dose, duration, and purpose; and

4) reassess patient management by checking patient progress frequently, reassessing antibiotic therapy 24-48 hours or sooner to change therapy as needed, and be sure the antibiotic type, dose and duration are correct.3

When sepsis is suspected, it is imperative for healthcare providers to document and communicate the signs and symptoms of infection. Errors in communicating the developing signs of sepsis directly lead to delays in treatment, which can ultimately be a death sentence. In fact, mortality from sepsis increases around 8% for every hour that treatment is delayed, and as many as 80% of sepsis deaths could be prevented with rapid diagnosis and treatment.4


[1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Making Health Care Safer. Aug 23, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/sepsis/index.html.

[2] Kumar A et al. Duration of hypotension before initiation of effective antimicrobial therapy is the critical determinant of survival in human septic shock. Crit Care Med, 2006 Jun;34(6): 1589-96.

[3]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Making Health Care Safer. Aug 23, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/sepsis/index.html.

[4] Kumar A et al. Duration of hypotension before initiation of effective antimicrobial therapy is the critical determinant of survival in human septic shock. Crit Care Med, 2006 Jun;34(6): 1589-96. 

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