Better sepsis screening needed in ICUs

Hospitals are not adequately screening for sepsis in the ICU. Sepsis, or surgical infection, kills 10 times more than heart attack and blood clots during surgery, according to new research published in the Archives of General Surgery.

"This research shows that hospitals need to identify at-risk patients earlier and implement sepsis screening and early evidence-based interventions with vigilance," said Dr. Laura Moore, a surgeon at Methodist Hospital in Houston. She was lead investigator for the study.

The research was based on a retrospective review of 364,000 general surgical patients in the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program database. Among those patients, sepsis occurred in 2.3 percent, compared with 0.3 percent for pulmonary embolism and 0.2 percent for myocardial infarction.

The number of people dying from sepsis, a condition caused by severe infection, has almost doubled in the past 20 years in the U.S. Severe sepsis is a leading cause of organ failure and deaths in general surgery ICUs. Risk factors for sepsis among surgical patients include age over 60, the need for emergency surgery and the presence of co-morbidities like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer or obesity. The presence of any co-morbidity increases the risk of sepsis or septic shock six-fold, and increases the 30-day mortality rate by 22 times.

To help healthcare providers screen for sepsis, Moore designed a tool that uses four early indicators for the onset of sepsis: heart rate, temperature, respiratory rate, and white blood cell count. The four markers can be checked regularly at bedside so that problems can be addressed immediately.

To learn more:
- read the abstract in the Archives of General Surgery
- read the article in U.S. News & World Report
- see the Los Angeles Times article

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