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Disease profile: Sepsis

Sepsis is a life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated immune response to infection. Importantly, there is not one single bacteria or virus that causes sepsis – rather any type of pathogenic infection can result in sepsis.

The condition can be life threatening, particularly in areas where healthcare infrastructure is lacking. For this reason, many areas in India with underdeveloped healthcare systems — in particular, rural locations — tend to have high mortality rates due to sepsis.

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Globally, sepsis is one of the three most common causes of infant deaths. According to data from UNICEF, it was responsible for at least 640,000 babies dying before they reached a month old in India in 2016.

Infants below the age of one month are particularly vulnerable to septic infections due to not having developed a fully functioning immune system at that stage of their life. Likewise, anyone with a compromised immune system, such as those with immunodeficiency disorders or the elderly, are prone to septic infections.

The prevalence of sepsis is high in India, though this is only one of a number of concerns. Notably, the mortality rate due to sepsis in India far surpasses the expected rates of other nations.

A recent study detailed the five-year experience of the sepsis mortality rates for intensive care units (ICU) and in-hospital patients to be 56 percent, 63 percent, respectively. These figures are above the high estimate range of mortality rate for sepsis-related deaths elsewhere.




Standard symptoms are fever-like, allowing for misinterpretation as conditions such as the flu. High temperatures and elevated pulse rates are normal. The person may already have a previous infection — a contributing factor to the development of sepsis.

It is when organ failure occurs that a diagnosis of severe sepsis is made, it is at this point that the condition becomes significantly more serious. Due to the potential for any number of organs to be affected, symptoms and severity can differ significantly.

Some common symptoms of extreme sepsis include: patches of discolored skin, changes in mental ability, difficulty breathing, abnormal heart functions, abnormal decreases in body temperature or unconsciousness. Septic shock may occur as a result of severe sepsis, which is notified by a considerable reduction in blood pressure. The condition at this stage can be fatal.


Prevention and treatment


Rapid diagnosis and treatment is vital to reducing the mortality rate. Confusion for other conditions risks vital time in which treatment must be provided. Some refer to a “golden hour” in which treatment is a necessity or death becomes a major risk.

Prevention, as with many other infections, can be achieved through proper sanitation protocols in hospitals, though due to the sheer number of infections that may cause sepsis, entirely preventing the condition is almost impossible.

Standard treatments include the replacement of fluids via IV drips, as well as the application of antibiotics via the IV. Medications may also be used to increase blood pressure or reduce inflammation.

Depending on the severity of the infection, a person may recover with no lasting effects, or, in more severe cases where organs have been damaged, have life long conditions related to the failed organ.

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