When an Infection Turns Deadly

At Monmouth Medical Center, healthcare professionals are focused on diagnosing sepsis early and treating it aggressively. 

Monmouth Medical Center’s sepsis team uses technology to rapidly identify patients with the condition. Andrew Lee, MD, Chief of Infectious Disease, with Liz Parato, RN (left), and Lynne Clemons, RN.Most of us don’t worry about contracting an infection because it can usually be cured with antibiotics. But sometimes the immune system stops fighting foreign invaders such as bacteria and turns on itself, causing tissue damage and organ failure. Sepsis claims 270,000 lives in the U.S. each year and is the top cause of death in American hospitals, according to the Sepsis Alliance, which raises awareness of the condition through an observance every fall. Sepsis is most common in adults 65 or older, children younger than 1 and people with conditions such as diabetes, lung disease and cancer.

Detecting Sepsis Early

In 2015, Monmouth Medical Center (MMC) clinicians formed a Sepsis Committee, which meets monthly to review sepsis cases and outcomes. In addition, the hospital implemented a Code Smart system, a computer program that alerts doctors and nurses when a patient’s symptoms and test results suggest sepsis. “When a patient with an infection develops a fever, experiences shaking chills and sweaty or clammy skin, has extreme pain, or becomes confused or disoriented, he or she may have sepsis,” says Andrew Lee, MD, Chief of Infectious Disease at MMC. “Blood pressure drops, the heart may race and the person may be short of breath. Confusion alone can be a sign of sepsis.” When a provider notices these symptoms or the Code Smart system generates an alert, “we immediately test a patient’s blood for lactic acid—an indicator of possible sepsis—and treat him or her with intravenous antibiotics and fluids,” says Lynne Clemons, RN, an MMC nurse who’s part of the hospital’s Rapid Response Team. “We also follow the patient closely.”

Nearly nine in 10 cases of sepsis start outside the hospital setting, so it’s important for patients to recognize the symptoms. “Sepsis is an emergency, since it means the organs are beginning to fail,” adds Liz Parato, RN, an Emergency Department nurse at MMC. “Hospital admission is necessary.”

Signs of Sepsis

If you experience any of the following signs of sepsis (TIME is the acronym used by the Sepsis Alliance), see your physician immediately, call 911 or head to the hospital and mention that you’re concerned about sepsis.

  • T is for temperature (higher or lower than normal)
  • I is for signs of infection
  • M is for mental decline (confused, sleepy or difficult to rouse)
  • E is for extremely ill (severe pain or discomfort)

Protect Yourself

If you need an antibiotic, take it as prescribed by your physician and be sure to finish the entire course—even if you feel better before the medication is done.

  • Avoid infection by staying up to date on the influenza, pneumonia and shingles vaccines.
  • Keep cuts clean and covered. Seek medical care for wounds that aren’t healing properly.
  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking impairs circulation, raising your risk of contracting an infection.

For more information about sepsis, visit www.sepsis.org.