Doc's Corner
Chev. John H. Mather, MD, FACPE, KTJ
Chirurgeon, Priory of St. Andrews

Sepsis is a Killer: Prevention Strategies

Excellencies, Fellow Knights and Dames:

We are generally familiar with the ‘killers’ or at least those conditions that can cause great morbidity and disablement such as a heart attack, a stroke and even an asthma attack. But for a medical emergency nothing comes close to rampant sepsis. It causes more deaths together than the combination of prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS. Each year, sepsis kills about 270,000 people in the USA.

Sepsis is a condition that builds and is ultimately life-threatening. It happens when the body reacts to fight an infection, such a pneumonia, a urinary tract infection and untreated trauma with open wounds. It comes about due to a ‘killing’ series of events when the immune system releases chemicals into the blood stream and actually triggers an inflammatory response with significant tissue damage, failure of organs such as the liver and ultimately death. If not recognized in a timely fashion the sepsis worsens, and unless there is prompt treatment then death comes is a matter of hours or days.

There is great danger for the very young and the elderly, whether it is a bacterial, viral on fungal infection. Those with chronic metabolic diseases such as diabetes and adrenal gland conditions such as Addison’s Disease, all cancers, acute and chronic kidney disease, and chronic lung problems such as emphysema are all at risk.

Sepsis can readily be missed as it can mimic a number of heart and pulmonary problems with a racing pulse of over 90 beats per minute and rapid breathing, such as more than 20 breaths per minute. It can also be misdiagnosed as there is no actual bona fide test for sepsis but it maybe suspected based on some specific signs and symptoms. These mistakes can be partially avoided if a temperature is high or low with severe shivering (chills) or a burning fever, accompanied by some profuse or minimal sweating. An infection may already be evident with the flu or an abscess with intense painful joints and usually a loss of appetite. Most individuals are confused, sleepy and often difficult to awaken.

If you suspect you or someone close to you could be ‘septic’, do not ignore the situation but immediately contact your primary care physician or go to an emergency room. Remember a diagnosis is completely missed a half of the time and any prevarication (such as an inaccurate description or understatement of your symptoms) will be fatal if the sepsis is not treated. Also, if a loved one is in a hospital ICU you might ask whether there is any hint of an infection. Today, hospitals, despite a heightened awareness of the need for cleanliness and sterilization techniques, continue to harbor some of the most viscous bacteria, such as MRSA.

So the key is a scrupulous attention to the possibility of sepsis and practice prevention through:

  • Annual vaccinations for flu, pneumonia and shingles, where the skin may become infected with bacteria
  • Good hygiene where hands are frequently washed and scrubbed for about half a minute
  • Clean any open wounds, scrapes or burns with antiseptics. Immediate medical consultation is needed when a skin lesion is increasingly red, swollen and painful. Any red streaks radiating in the limbs is an ominous sign of a growing sepsis
All is not “doom and gloom” as sepsis can be adequately managed if there is a careful attention to hygiene by visitors, as well. Although sepsis is confined to the victim and is not transmitted like the flu, children and older people should avoid coming close anyone suspected of or having a progressive sepsis.

It is becoming evident that there are long-term after effects of a recovery from sepsis. This is designated as a ‘post-sepsis syndrome’ (PSS) with occurrence in about half of the victims. Gangrene may set it with loss of tissue and limbs. Vital organs such as the liver and heart may be permanently functionally impaired. More ominous are the lingering effects on mental functions. These may include a post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), insomnia, hallucinations, poor concentration with memory and cognitive deficits. It is theorized that sepsis makes the brain more vulnerable to inflammation as the blood-brain barrier may be compromised

In summary, sepsis should not be left untreated or ignored and should be brought to task and attacked immediately it is suspected. This warning may seem somewhat dramatic but a few of us physicians have seen the ravages of sepsis and it is not a pretty sight.



April 2019
Regular publication of SMOTJ GPUSA

In This Issue

  A Word from the Grand Prior

  Milwaukee 2019 - Venues


  Destinations Cont'd

  Trains, Planes, Automobiles

  Family and Friends Tours

  News of the Order

  Silent and Live Auctions


  The Easter Faith and Knights Templar

  AmazonSmile Charity

  Templars Quarterly Update

  Sepsis is a Killer

  Priory News

  GPUSA Calendar


The information and opinion contained in this article is that of the author and is intended for your general knowledge and is not a substitute for professional advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.


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