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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 1.7 million adults develop sepsis annually. You may have heard of this medical condition and asked, what is sepsis? Sepsis is your body’s toxic response to an infection. Rather than fighting off the illness, the body turns on itself. It is not contagious, it is not rare, and it is very serious. One in three patients who die in the hospital has sepsis although 87% of Sepsis cases begin in the community. 

Who is at risk for developing sepsis? Anyone can get sepsis but at greater risk are the very young, older adults 65+, those with a chronic illness (such as lung disease, diabetes, and cancer), and anyone with a weakened immune system. Additionally, those with COVID-19 can be at risk of developing sepsis, according to the CDC.

The most common types of infections that can lead to sepsis are bacterial infections such as urinary tract infections, MRSA, and bacterial pneumonia. However, anyone with a viral, fungal, or parasitic infection can be vulnerable.

Common early warning signs include confusion, fatigue, pale or discolored skin, shortness of breath, dizziness, chills, fever, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, and an overall feeling of being extremely sick. The acronym to remember is TIME- T stands for temperature, I for infection, M for mental decline, and E for extremely ill. It is important to watch for a combination of the above. 

Unfortunately, sepsis cannot always be prevented, however, one can reduce the risk by practicing good hygiene, staying up to date on vaccinations, and seeking medical attention if you have an infection. 

When a person goes from sepsis to septic shock, it is severe and potentially fatal as one has dangerously low blood pressure. According to the Sepsis Alliance, every hour sepsis is untreated, the risk of death increases by 8%. Sepsis is a medical emergency. If you suspect sepsis, call 911 or go to the hospital. Be sure to let any first responders know that you “think it may be sepsis.” Treatment for sepsis includes identifying the source of infection, administering antibiotics, and maintaining blood flow to the organs. 

Column is written by Laura Falt, director of business development in Connecticut. Laura welcomes the opportunity to be a resource to the community on services for older adults and is often featured in local publications.