Sepsis Awareness: Take Time to Educate Yourself about the Signs and Symptoms
This is a post prepared under a contract funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and written on behalf of the Mom It Forward Influencer Network for use in CDC’s Get Ahead of Sepsis educational effort. Opinions on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CDC.
Infections put you and your family at risk for a life-threatening condition called sepsis. Anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection can lead to sepsis.
Sepsis is a topic that is close to my family because we lost my Father-In-Law to sepsis a few years ago.
A few years ago, my Father-In-Law, at the age of 72, was hospitalized with some medical issues. He was in the hospital for a few weeks, in a city about 8 hours from our home. We spoke on the phone with him daily and had family members who lived in the same city checking in on him regularly. Based on our phone conversations, we felt like he was improving. In fact, he was due to be released when—very suddenly—things took a turn for the worst. He developed all of the signs and symptoms of sepsis.
He was quickly moved to the ICU and we were called to come immediately. We packed up all three kids in the car and were out of the house within 30 minutes, making the 8-hour drive in under 7 hours. As we were traveling along the highway, the Infectious Disease Specialist in the ICU was calling us on the phone. They were frantically trying to determine what specific type of infection was affecting him so they could best treat it. They needed to confirm specific drug allergies and interactions, medical history, etc. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the hospital, he had passed. It was a very tragic situation but it taught us firsthand how important it is to know our loved one’s medical information and the signs and symptoms of sepsis so that early recognition and timely treatment can take place. I write this story not to scare you, but to encourage you to take the time to educate yourselves and your loved ones about sepsis. I hope none of you are ever in the situation where you need to use this information, but should you find yourselves there, I hope this story is valuable to you.
In our immediate family, I have one son on the Autism Spectrum and he also has a variety of other health issues. Another son developed RSV as an infant and continues to struggle with health issues as a teenager (more on that in a moment). My third son has ADHD, but no other health issues. I have an autoimmune disorder, and some of the medications I take make me more susceptible to infections, so I keep a close eye on things and stay in communication with my physicians when I am sick. We are all fully vaccinated because we have chosen to take every possible action we can to help prevent serious illness and infections.
My middle son who had RSV tends to get very sick very quickly from illnesses. We’ve had to make several Emergency Room visits when fevers spike very high, or signs and symptoms seem to be progressing instead of improving. Just this past year, he was hospitalized with pneumonia when his first course of antibiotics did not show improvement after 72 hours. We were fortunate that the IV antibiotics he was given at the hospital helped him turn the corner quickly. Many other children on our floor had to be flown to larger hospitals in Boston for more advanced treatment.
We’re very thankful he recovered, especially considering that he had one of the four types of infections that are often linked with sepsis:
- lungs (pneumonia)
- kidney (urinary tract infection)
When a family member is sick, it’s important to document signs and symptoms and treatments taken. The doctors were thankful that I brought a record of every temperature taken, medication given, and other signs and symptoms exhibited, because it helped them quickly identify what was working/not working, and not waste time repeating previous treatments.
As caregivers, you also want to be proactive and not reactive, whenever possible. Do not worry about bothering a nurse with a question, asking a doctor to further explain anything you don’t understand, requesting a second opinion, or take any other action needed to help your loved one as they recover from illness. Wash hands frequently, ensure others are handwashing as well, make sure gloves are used when appropriate, and any gowning up that is necessary is done.
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The CDC has launched a new initiative, Get Ahead of Sepsis, to help us know about the importance of early recognition and timely treatment of sepsis, as well as the importance of preventing infections that could lead to sepsis.
Recently, I have had two friends, both in their early 40s, hospitalized with sepsis. My first friend had a simple ear infection, went to the doctor for an antibiotic, and after 48 hours it was significantly worse instead of better. She works at a retail pharmacy so she is exposed to those who are ill frequently, but she takes careful precaution to prevent infections by washing her hands frequently, disinfecting surfaces, getting recommended vaccines, and consulting with her physician right away when she becomes ill so they can discuss treatment options. For the signs and symptoms of this infection, they determined an antibiotic was necessary, and she made sure to get plenty of rest and fluids. When she noticed she was developing the signs and symptoms of sepsis, she went to the Emergency Room right away.
Anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection can lead to sepsis.
Sepsis signs and symptoms can include one or a combination of the following:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Shortness of breath
- High heart rate
- Fever, or shivering, or feeling very cold
- Extreme pain or discomfort
- Clammy or sweaty skin
My friend was clammy, feverish but cold, having trouble catching her breath, and her heart rate was very high. While in the ER, she became confused, and the medical personnel did lab tests, then diagnosed her with sepsis. They were able to call in an infectious disease specialist right away, get her admitted, run tests, and get proper antibiotic treatment underway before the sepsis could progress further.
Sepsis is a medical emergency. If you or your loved one suspect sepsis or has an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse, ask your doctor or nurse, “Could this infection be leading to sepsis?”
My other friend has a chronic medical condition and has a weakened immune system, so she is in the category of those at higher risk.
My friend is very sick and still in the hospital, but was fortunate that her physician recognized that she was exhibiting sepsis signs and symptoms right away and sent her to the hospital to be immediately treated.
I cannot repeat this often enough: Sepsis is a medical emergency. ACT FAST. Get medical care IMMEDIATELY if you suspect sepsis or have an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse.
To learn more about sepsis and how to prevent infections, visit www.cdc.gov/sepsis.
For more information about antibiotic prescribing and use, visit www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use.