Sepsis Awareness Month highlights year-round priority

September 7, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership, ,
Act fast. Save Lives. Spot Sepsis. Stop Sepsis.

September is Sepsis Awareness Month. Reminders across Michigan Medicine this month will emphasize the importance of spotting the signs of sepsis — a time-sensitive medical emergency that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death — and acting quickly to save lives.

“This month presents an important opportunity for the health system and is a timely reminder of our efforts to decrease mortality due to sepsis,” said David C. Miller, M.D., M.P.H., president of University of Michigan Health.

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that bacterial infections are to blame for most cases of sepsis, but the condition can also result from viral infections like COVID-19 and influenza.

Sepsis is the leading cause of death and readmissions in U.S. hospitals, and the CDC shares these sepsis statistics:

  • At least 1.7 million adults develop sepsis in America each year
  • Nearly 270,000 Americans die as a result of sepsis each year
  • 1 in 3 patients who die in a hospital has sepsis

Increased efforts lead to improved outcomes

Sepsis has been a key area of focus for U-M Health this year. Teams are working to increase early recognition of symptoms and rapid implementation of best practice clinical interventions, or sepsis bundles, for patients who develop the condition — both critical to saving lives.

“Between January and June of this year, we saw a 10% improvement in screening for early recognition of sepsis on the patient care units,” said Pat Posa, R.N., B.S.N., M.S.A., CCRN-K, FAAN, quality and patient safety program manager for University Hospital and Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

“When we provide sepsis bundle guideline interventions, like giving appropriate fluids and antibiotics, we see a decrease in our mortality,” she said.

Increasing bundle compliance and decreasing mortality from sepsis are priorities for the health system. A critical first step for both is knowing the signs of sepsis and spotting those signs early.

Spotting the signs

Some people are at higher risk for developing sepsis, including adults over 65 and children under one, individuals with chronic medical conditions or weakened immune systems, and those with recent severe illness or hospitalization.

However, it’s important that health care providers understand anyone can develop sepsis, and that they remain alert for symptoms that may point to the condition.

Key signs to watch for include the following:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Shortness of breath or fast breathing
  • Fever, shivering or feeling very cold
  • High heart rate
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Clammy or sweaty skin
  • Decreased urine output
  • Lethargy (or sleepier than normal in children)

Acting quickly to save lives

Just as important as spotting signs early is rapid response, with clinical interventions like fluids and broad-spectrum antibiotics, to stop sepsis. If not caught early, sepsis can quickly progress to severe sepsis, septic shock and death.

“We need to be proactive rather than reactive to sepsis so we can prevent irreversible organ dysfunction or death,” said Winnie Wood, R.N., M.S.N., ACNS-BC, clinical nurse specialist. “We are asking nurses to assist in this work by recognizing signs and symptoms of sepsis and understanding the treatment.”

“Providers need to ask with every patient they see, ‘could this patient have sepsis?’” said Jessie King, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of internal medicine and medical director of sepsis initiatives at Michigan Medicine.

“We need to be vigilant in looking for sepsis because it doesn’t always present in the same way,” King said. “For every hour that antibiotic therapy is delayed, the patient’s risk of mortality increases by approximately eight percent.”

Ongoing commitment

Sepsis Awareness Month creates an important platform for bringing additional attention to sepsis during September.

However, knowing and recognizing the signs of sepsis, increasing implementation of bundle elements and reducing mortality are key areas of focus for U-M Health all year long.

“Our progress to date is great as we continue to raise awareness and intentional actions to reduce sepsis and mortality rates,” said Miller. “We still have room to grow, and I know our teams can come together over the next fiscal year to make even greater strides and reduce the number of deaths due to sepsis.”

Be sure to keep an eye on the Employees @ Michigan Medicine Facebook page and digital signs across the health system for weekly “Did You Know” sepsis facts. Remember those facts and respond to the Headlines sepsis quiz at the end of September for your chance to win a prize!