Sepsis Awareness Month – Suspect sepsis. Save lives.

September is Sepsis Awareness month. To mark the occasion we invited Marijke Vroomen Durning, Director of Content at Sepsis Alliance, to tell us more about Sepsis, the organization’s work, and the importance of raising awareness.

The numbers are staggering. Every year, 8 million people across the globe die from sepsis, 258,000 in the United States alone. One in three people in the U.S. will develop sepsis in their lifetime. Sepsis is the number one cause of death in U.S. hospitals, the number one cause of rehospitalization, and the single highest cost to hospitals at $24 billion per year. And yet, according to the latest Sepsis Alliance annual survey, only 58 percent of Americans have heard the word sepsis, and significantly fewer can explain what it is.

Only 58 percent of Americans have heard the word sepsis, and significantly fewer can explain what it is

Admittedly, 58 percent awareness of sepsis in 2017 is higher than the 19 percent awareness that existed in 2007, the year Sepsis Alliance was founded. But given that fewer than 1 percent of American adults can tell you the symptoms of sepsis – compared with 72 percent who could identify a stroke – there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done.

What is sepsis?

Put simply, sepsis is your body’s toxic reaction to an infection. Normally, when you contract an infection, your immune system tries to fight it off. However with sepsis, your immune system starts to attack your body instead. Your blood pressure can go perilously low, your organs can fail, and you may end up on a ventilator to help you breathe. It can kill you.

Treatment for sepsis is not complicated when it’s recognized early. It takes IV fluids and antibiotics. But once severe sepsis takes hold, your chances of survival drop by 8 percent for every hour you are not treated. But in order to be treated, it needs to be recognized.

Spreading awareness and educating

To address the need for education, over the past decade, Sepsis Alliance has developed a robust website and substantial web, print, and video resources for both the public and healthcare professionals. One of the hallmarks of the website is the Faces of Sepsis section, where more than 700 people have shared stories of how sepsis has touched their lives.

Our events team provides support to people who wish to hold awareness and fund-raising events and we support volunteers who prefer to work on a smaller scale, by giving talks or providing sepsis brochures and symptoms cards to their community.

We have provided speakers for various educational events, and formed partnerships with other health-related organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control, American Association for Critical Care Nurses, the Amputee Coalition, and the Children’s Hosptital Association. These partnerships allow us to share resources so they may learn more about sepsis and we can learn more about their sepsis-related issues and how we can help.

Sepsis Awareness Month goes global

The Global Sepsis Alliance, of which Sepsis Alliance is a founding member, declared September 13 to be World Sepsis Day

In 2011, Sepsis Alliance declared September to be Sepsis Awareness Month. That first year, we promoted sepsis awareness through social media and press, and encouraged healthcare professionals to discuss sepsis awareness in their facilities. The next year, The Global Sepsis Alliance, of which Sepsis Alliance is a founding member, declared September 13 to be World Sepsis Day. This was also the first year Sepsis Alliance hosted its now annual Sepsis Heroes Gala in New York City.

Sepsis Awareness Month has taken off and is now observed world-wide, with professional events and workshops held in countries like Germany, New Zealand, Guatemala, and Mexico. September is also when we release our annual survey findings, to help bring home the need for this awareness month – and for awareness all year long.

Why is raising awareness so vital?

When sepsis is recognized early, it’s usually treatable. Jim O’Brien, MD, former chair of the SA Board of Directors, has frequently said that we could cut deaths to sepsis in the U.S. by half simply by providing fluids and antibiotics in a timely manner. But without recognition, treatment can’t begin.

The word needs to get out to the community how to recognize signs of sepsis and to understand the need to seek medical help as quickly as possible. Up to 92 percent of sepsis cases come into the emergency room from people who became ill at home or at work.

If we want to cut down sepsis numbers we need to reach people in their communities, and to help caregivers understand the need for sepsis vigilance.

All healthcare professionals who work with patients should keep sepsis in mind when presented with sepsis symptoms or a history, like recent surgical procedures, invasive devices, or infections. Suspect Sepsis. Save Lives. This is the Sepsis Alliance tagline. And it works.

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