Sepsis: New definition may help cut risks of deadly infection

An international task force has come up with a new definition of sepsis that could cut the infection risk.

The task force, led by doctors at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the university's School of Medicine, published updated definitions of both sepsis and septic shock for the first time in 15 years in The Journal of the American Medical Association. 

The blood infection causes half of hospital deaths, and unlike other common infections, it requires multiple departments within an organization to combat the illness. With the dire risks sepsis poses to patient safety, it's counterproductive not to make use of the latest advances in research, Derek C. Angus, M.D., chair of Pitt's Department of Critical Care Medicine, told the Pittsburgh Business Times.

Sepis is now defined as a "life-threatening organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection."

"Our intent is that this definition results in greater consistency for epidemiologic studies, clinical trials and--perhaps most important--better recognition and more timely management of patients with, or at risk of developing, sepsis," he said.

Meanwhile, providers are seeing positive results on sepsis at a micro level as well; at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, leaders used a $26 million innovation grant from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to reduce sepsis mortality by more than 75 percent, according to Stat News. "The solution wasn't fancy; there was no code to break," writes Dartmouth-Hitchcock President and CEO James N. Weinstein, M.D. "We simply made sure that all clinicians were aware of the warning signs of sepsis and set a low threshold for starting treatment."

The facility also standardized treatment through the "three-hour bundle." Under this system, within three hours of identifying a potential sepsis patient, workers take a blood sample to measure lactate, culture the blood to identify an infections, start the patient on a broad-spectrum antibiotic and keep the patient sufficiently hydrated.

To learn more:
- read the JAMA article
- here's the Business Journal article
- read the Stat News article