Posted on September 23, 2014

Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is raising awareness of sepsis – a complication commonly triggered by an infection - and helping the public understand how to prevent the potentially life-threatening condition as part of activities organized to mark World Sepsis Day. The Critical Care team at Hamad General Hospital’s (HGH) Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) has launched a campaign to raise awareness of six simple steps designed to reduce the number of deaths caused by sepsis; the Sepsis 6 Protocol educates staff about sepsis, its causes, symptoms and prevention.

“Sepsis refers to an invasion of bacteria into the bloodstream. It is often referred to as blood poisoning. While it can be caused by viral or fungal infections, bacterial infections are by far the most common cause,” explained Dr. Ibrahim Fawzy (pictured), Director of the MICU. “Our awareness activities are focused on simple steps that can be implemented to reduce the condition’s potentially devastating effects. Ensuring our staff, and also the public, are able to spot the signs of sepsis is the first step in combating it; with this condition, the sooner treatment begins the better the outcome .”

In recognition of the World Sepsis Day, the Critical Care team also organized a multi-disciplinary symposium for all healthcare professionals involved in the care of patients with sepsis. The awareness activities were held in collaboration with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), an independent not-for-profit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Considered the leading innovator in health and healthcare improvement worldwide, HMC entered into a strategic partnership with IHI last year to design and develop innovative ways to bring genuine and enduring improvement to every area of HMC’s work.  

According to Dr. Abdulsalam Saif, Clinical Lead for the MICU Registry, about 500 patients with sepsis are admitted to the Medical Intensive Care Unit annually. He explained that with sepsis, the body’s immune system goes into overdrive, setting off a series of reactions, including widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting. “This can lead to a significant decrease in blood pressure, which can result in a reduction of blood supply to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys.”

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According to Dr. Fawzy, early symptoms of sepsis usually develop quickly and can include a high temperature (fever), chills and shivering, a quickened heartbeat and fast breathing. “In some cases symptoms of more severe sepsis, or septic shock, develop soon after. These can include feeling dizzy or faint, confusion or disorientation, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin.” Dr. Ahmed Labib, Clinical Lead for the Severe Sepsis Project, noted that if not treated quickly, sepsis can eventually lead to multiple organ failure and death. “Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection. Anyone can develop sepsis, but it’s most common, and most dangerous, in older adults and in those with weakened immune systems such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or leukemia.”

He added that those most vulnerable to sepsis include individuals who are:

  • receiving medical treatment, such as long-term steroids that weakens their immune system;
  • very young or very old;
  • pregnant;
  • having a long-term health condition such as diabetes;
  • recovering from surgery, or have wounds or injuries as a result of an accident;
  • on mechanical ventilation (where a machine is used to help with breathing);
  • having drips or catheters attached to their skin;
  • genetically prone to infections

According to him, the best defense against sepsis is limiting exposure to infections by washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, keeping wounds clean and speaking with your physician about vaccinations against illnesses like influenza and pneumonia. “It is important for everyone to be aware of how sepsis occurs; people should avoid putting their sick loved ones at the risk of developing sepsis when visiting them in the hospital. They can do this by observing necessary precautions such as good hand hygiene or refrain from visiting when they might have some infection,” Dr. Labib added.