Despite killing hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, sepsis is a condition few people know about. 


“Sepsis can occur from any type of viral, fungal or bacterial infection and become a life-threatening condition very quickly,” said Faisal Masud, M.D., medical director of critical care at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Some of the symptoms include rapid breathing and heart rate, fever, chills, shortness of breath, red streaks around the infection and a drop in blood pressure. It’s important to get immediate medical attention or go to a hospital ASAP if these symptoms occur.”


More than 1.7 million Americans develop sepsis every year and nearly 260,000 die from it. Yet a survey published by Sepsis Alliance found that fewer than half of Americans have ever even heard of the illness.


“When a person’s body develops an infection chemicals are released to fight off the infection,” Masud said “Sepsis occurs when there is a hyper response of chemicals causing damage to multiple organs and, in some cases, causing them to fail.”


Masud says sepsis can happen to anyone, but the elderly, people with weakened immune systems, children under 1 and people with conditions such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease and cancer are at highest risk. It is one of the top causes of death in hospitals, however, nearly 80% of sepsis cases start at home. And that’s why, he said, knowing what the symptoms are is critical for early detection.


Masud also said once you are in the emergency room, be sure the medical staff is aware of your symptoms.


“If you have an infection simply ask the health care professional you are seeing ‘do I have sepsis?’” Masud said. “Asking this one question could literally mean the difference between life and death.”


Masud said over the years, Houston Methodist has prioritized screening for sepsis, including developing its own early detection screening tools, greatly reducing the number of fatal cases.


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