Saturday, September 14, 2013

Yesterday Was World Sepsis Day 2013 - More Awareness Needed

Since 2011, the month of September has been Sepsis Awareness Month in the United States. Last year, September 13th was declared to be World Sepsis Day. The combination of the two, the month and the day, has raised the profile of this little known and little understood disease that kills so many.

Never heard of sepsis or not convinced it's a serious issue? Why not go have a look at the Sepsis Awareness Month Sepsis Victim Counter now and then go back for another look when you've finished reading this piece. See how many people have died in that short period of time. The counter will run throughout the month.

Sepsis Alliance, an organization that I work with, commissions an annual poll with Harris Interactive to gauge sepsis awareness in the United States. While there is some improvement, the results are still disappointing. Four in 10 adults in the United States have not heard the word sepsis. Even worse, many who have heard the word weren't sure what it is. How can we fight a disease so few people know of? The answer is, we can't - we need more awareness and more education.

Sepsis Awareness Month and World Sepsis Day are working. There were several stories online, in print, and on TV in the US, the UK, and elsewhere; many more than there were two years ago this month. People are talking about it, sharing their stories of having survived sepsis or losing a loved one to it.

So, you may be asking - what is sepsis? I've said how serious it is, how people don't know it, but I haven't told you what it is yet. It's very simple: it's your body's over reaction to infection. If you have an infection - influenza, pneumonia, an infected cut, a urinary tract infection, etc., - your body stimulates the systems to fight it. However, sometimes the body over reacts and it not only starts to fight the infection, it starts to fight the body too. As some people say, it's like friendly fire. As your body goes haywire, your blood begins to clot inside the blood vessels, depriving body tissues of much needed oxygen and other nutrients. Body organs begin to malfunction and even shut down. Death is a definite possibility. For many who survive, they live with limb amputations or organs that don't work properly. Many live with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other cognitive issues. We call this post-sepsis syndrome. But if we think sepsis isn't recognized enough, post-sepsis syndrome is even worse.

It's not unusual for some healthcare professionals to say to a sepsis survivor that they're cured simply because they made it out of the hospital. But what many don't understand is that there are so many lasting issues that affect many of the survivors. Not everyone has problems after surviving sepsis - they recover and they get on with their lives - but others are left with issues that range from mild, nagging problems to life-changing ones.

While sepsis does affect more people on the opposite ends of the life spectrum (the very old and very young), as well as people who are already ill with other issues, it can strike the healthiest of people at any age, of any ethnicity, of any socioeconomic group. You can see a mosaic of faces, at the Faces of Sepsis - to see what this really means.

Often, pictures are better than words, so I recommend you have a look at these videos to learn more about sepsis. If you know about it, you can help protect yourself and loved ones. And don't forget to go back to look at the counter. Look and see how many people died while you were reading this.

Sepsis in Older Americans
In Practice