Sepsis: Claiming the lives of thousands

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RAPID CITY, S.D. -

Millions of Americans are affected by sepsis each year and often don’t even realize it until it’s too late.

Sepsis is a dysregulated immune response to an infection. The body’s immune system releases chemicals into the blood to fight infection. But sometimes those chemicals can cause inflammation. However, it’s often difficult to detect.

Jory Denman, a registered nurse and the sepsis coordinator at Rapid City Regional Hospital, says 258,000 Americans are diagnosed with sepsis on a yearly basis, and it actually affects up to 1.6 million more. 

“Not necessarily that they’re diagnosed, but they’re getting treatment for if they have infections related to it," Denman says.

September is recognized as Sepsis Awareness Month. Even though sepsis affects more than a million Americans each year and kills up to half of them. A survey published by Sepsis Alliance found that only a little more than half of the country's population has heard of the condition.

Dr. Gregory English, a physician at Rapid City Regional Hospital, explained that it can often get mistaken for other diseases.

“Chills and fever would be two big signs,” English says. “There would also be, a lot of times, a rapid heart rate or fast breathing. Sometimes folks who come in with sepsis will be altered or not themselves, so they’re not interacting with their environment like they usually do.”

Sepsis does not work alone. It  stems from a previous medical condition creating chaos in the body’s immune response. Denman says that sepsis can arise following conditions that are relatively common.

“The things that are most common are pneumonias, are urinary tract infections," Denman says. "People that have recently had surgeries are at greater risk as well."

Denman also notes that just because someone was recently seeing a physician or was discharged, they're still at risk. And English says that Sepsis can develop outside of the hospital.

“A common misconception is that you have to be in a hospital to get sepsis,” English said. “But actually, sepsis - more often than not - arises outside of the hospital and at home, and infection arises, and then sepsis takes off.”

English says that people should be evaluated by their primary care provider as soon as they feel unwell.

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