Medical Edge: Surviving Sepsis

Posted at: 09/12/2013 11:11 PM
Updated at: 09/12/2013 11:14 PM
By: Kenny King

(ABC 6 News) -- Sometimes the way your body's immune system reacts to an infection is so strong that it can actually damage the body.

Doctors at Mayo Clinic have organized a response team in the intensive care unit.

"Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication related to an infection," Kannan Ramar, MBBS, M.D. said.

Dr. Kannan Ramar says every year, close to three-quarters of a million people in the U.S. develop a septic reaction. It happens when an infection prompts the immune system to kick into overdrive, causing problems such as kidney failure, liver failure, severe drops in blood pressure and even death.

"It becomes very important that this is recognized early," he said.

That's because the death rate can be very high. Up to 75% for people who develop sepsis at home and up to 25% for those who get it in the hospital.

"It's similar to treating a heart attack or a stroke, where you have a very short window within which you take the necessary steps to prevent significant damage from happening down the road," Ramar said.

That window is 6 hours. Dr. Ramar's team uses what are called sepsis sniffers; technology that monitors things like fever, heart rate and blood pressure, and alerts the medical team when a patient's in danger. If blood tests confirm that's true, the Septic Response Team launches into action.

"It's a big multidisciplinary approach to do this, and so all members of the ICU team are actively involved to get this aggressive resuscitation going and to get all the things done within that six-hour window period," he said.

"We follow what we call the Surviving Sepsis Resuscitation Guidelines," Ramar said.  Methods of best practice developed by the Society of Critical Care Medicine to ensure the best possible treatment for patients.

"If the necessary things are done, then the mortality drops down dramatically."