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Sepsis Alliance: Gaining Ground Against a Lethal Threat

Sepsis is the number one cause of death in U.S. hospitals, yet only 63% of adults are familiar with the term and only 15% can identify the most common symptoms. Thomas Heyman, President and CEO of Sepsis Alliance, and Dr. Mallory Perry-Eaddy, Assistant Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing and Sepsis Alliance Advisory Board Member, brought awareness to this alarming state of sepsis in the U.S. and its devastating effects on people of all ages through patient stories in our discussion. Although this public health threat has gone under the radar for several years, the Sepsis Alliance is steadfastly working to promote needed research and policy, raise sepsis awareness in the community, and educate health care professionals to diagnose and treat sepsis faster to save lives and improve survivors’ outcomes. Here are some of their thoughts on:

Sepsis awareness and Sepsis Alliance’s mission:

“Only 15% of the country knows the most common symptoms of sepsis, given most cases start in the community, it’s more common than stroke, and more deadly than stroke. It’s important that we make our nation sepsis aware. It also highlighted the fact that folks at urgent care weren’t tuned in to this being potentially more dangerous, so that comes down to health care provider readiness and training. From a policy and advocacy point of view […] how do we continue to prioritize sepsis at the state and federal levels? In terms of research, funding, and innovation, we need to better understand the heterogeneity of infections and pathways to sepsis. And that’s part of the work that Sepsis Alliance is doing with the FDA, ASPR, and BARDA in our collaborative community called the Sepsis Innovation Collaborative.”

Outcomes for children with sepsis and equity concerns:

“Sepsis impacts about 25 million children every year and takes more than 3 million of these children. In the U.S. alone, more than 75,000 develop severe sepsis each year. […] Even though it is the leading cause of death in children, many children who acquire sepsis do survive, and we need to shift our framework to not just the mortality rate but also the new morbidity or the acquired loss of function that these children may have. […] Lastly, when we think about children and surviving sepsis, we have to consider equity. Unfortunately, there is an equitable barrier between race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, […] so we’ve got a lot of work to do on the equity stand as too many children are succumbing to sepsis.”

Sepsis awareness, advocacy, and policy for early detection and treatment:

“The word is getting out and things are starting to change where there’s growing familiarity with it as a medical emergency. We want folks to be enlightened, not necessarily frightened, so we have vast resources [on our website, sepsis.org]. Similarly, as an organization we made a commitment to make sure that our nation’s health care professionals were as well trained in sepsis as they are in stroke. With some additional funding from BARDA, we created the Sepsis Alliance Institute, which now has over 150 courses available free for practitioners across the continuum of care and this number is now approaching 50,000 learners.

Our latest initiative is called Lulus Law, […] named in honor of Lulu Haynes from Montclair, New Jersey, who passed away at the age of four related to appendicitis leading to sepsis. The law calls for the creation of state pilots to help create what will ultimately be a model like the National Cancer Registries. […] We believe that it’s necessary to understand the pathway from infection to sepsis. The law also calls for the creation of a National Sepsis Action Plan, which is in accord with the World Health Organization and the G7 calling for all nations to have such a plan. Several countries do, so we’re pushing for the U.S. to have something similarly.”

Common misconceptions about sepsis:

“One of the misconceptions about sepsis is most people often think it is a blood poisoning or a blood infection — something has gotten into your blood that’s causing that. That’s not completely incorrect. It is your body’s overwhelming response to that bacteria or virus, so something as small as a finger cut can cause it. I’m a pediatric ICU nurse. I’ve seen things as innocuous as the flu, kids who have gone to petting zoos and get a bacterial infection in their stomach, but that can also lead to sepsis as well. I think another misconception is that usually it’s elderly people [who get sepsis], but it can happen in children as well. And mortality, we think of death as kind of being the end all be all of sepsis, which unfortunately, death has a high rate in sepsis. However, there are those survivors, and we need to support them as well.”

Watch the full discussion and view the slides.