Sepsis: A Potentially Lethal Complication of Bacterial Infection

Article posted on:10/24/2007

According to a 2003 study by Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sepsis killed 120,491 hospitalized people in 2000. The same study found cases of sepsis in the U.S. have risen dramatically in recent decades, nearly tripling from 82.7 cases out of every 100,000 Americans in 1979 to 240.4 cases per 100,000 in 2000. Shockingly, Muppets creator Jim Henson died of the disease in 1990 at age 53.

Sepsis - the body's ultimate response to a bacterial infection -- is characterized by severe reaction of the body's organs to the foreign bacteria and/or death. Sepsis is also referred to as systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS).  Although sepsis often results from the widespread invasion of bacteria into a patient's bloodstream, this invasion is not essential for the development of severe sepsis since local infection/inflammation can also cause distant organ dysfunction and blood pressure irregularities.  Some of the common places in the body where an infection might start include the skin (celluitis), the lungs (bacterial pneumonia), liver, gall bladder, lining of the brain (meningitis), the bloodstream, the bones, the bowel, or the kidneys.  For hospitalized patients, common sources of infections include bedsores (decubitus ulcers), surgical drains, intravenous lines, or surgical wounds.  Unfortunately, bacteria live and breed in hospitalized settings, and thus, many healthy people who have suffered an injury requiring a drain, or IV lines or open ports into their blood stream often contract an infection that turns into sepsis. 

Epidemiologists blame this large increase on the explosive rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria caused by overuse of antibiotics as well as on the increasing numbers of people living with immune systems weakened by HIV, using immune-suppressive therapy for organ and bone marrow transplants, and receiving high-dose chemotherapy for cancer. Young children and elderly people are also at a higher risk for the condition because of their weaker immune systems. Researchers have recently discovered that blocking the activity of a single enzyme known as aldose reductase can short-circuit sepsis, protecting heart function and greatly reducing sepsis deaths.

These scientists have accomplished this feat using a chemical compound very similar to a diabetes drug already in stage three clinical trials in the United States, the final level of human experimentation before a drug is considered for federal licensing approval. If those diabetes trials prove successful and the drug is approved for use in diabetics, it's possible that such an "aldose reductase inhibitor" could be used by physicians relatively quickly for "off-label" emergency use against sepsis in humans, the scientists said. When a drug is approved for one human use, individual doctors may try it out against other conditions where it appears warranted.

Until then, the onset of sepsis remains one of the most lethal, yet preventable, reactions to bacterial infections that are unfortunately so prevalent in hospitals today. If you or a member of your family have developed sepsis while in a hospital setting, you may have the right to take legal action.  Call our legal team at 410-385-9104 to set up your free consultation.