Sepsis, a phenomenon also called septicaemia and septic shock syndrome, is still dangerously misunderstood.
*CZURA CJ. “MERINOFF SYMPOSIUM 2010: SEPSIS – SPEAKING WITH ONE VOICE”, MOL MED 2011; 17:2-3.
**FLEISCHMANN, SCHERAG, ADHIKARI, ET AL.: GLOBAL SEPSIS INCIDENCE AND MORTALITY. AM J RESPIR CRIT CARE MED VOL 193, ISS 3, PP. 259–272, FEB 1, 2016.
What happens when everything starts to go wrong? When the body malfunctions so profoundly that an infection becomes systemic? Hippocrates cut straight to the point when he named the condition sepsis, a term that means “putrefaction” and more or less sums up everything you need to know. The phenomenon has since been called septicaemia and septic shock syndrome. It’s possible the many name changes are one of the reasons why it’s so poorly understood today. Despite the threat presented by this condition, sepsis is still dangerously misunderstood.
Indeed, sepsis is widespread. In the United States, more people die from it than colon cancer, breast cancer and HIV combined.* Current estimates point to 31 million cases and 6 million deaths in high-income countries,** i.e. the same death toll as tobacco.
Slowly but surely, this public health nightmare is starting to worry health authorities.
At the end of May, the World Health Organization adopted a new resolution encouraging its members to develop national plans to combat the “deadliest killer you’ve never heard of”.
It seems the thorniest problem, and the reason why international health authorities finally decided to act, is that too few clinicians know how to properly diagnose an at-risk patient. As a result, it seems the majority of deaths caused by sepsis were not correctly reported. According to a recent article published in The Guardian, sepsis was only mentioned on 40% of the death certificates of patients who actually died from the condition.
In United Kingdom, the National Health Service has tackled the problem by developing a large-scale training plan for its physicians. As a result, and even though other factors contributed to this change, the mortality rate of patients admitted to intensive care wards in UK hospitals dropped from 35% to 27% in just a few months.
In Switzerland, several specialists, following the example of Dr Thierry Calandra, head of the Infectious Disease Service at CHUV and a pioneer in the field, have long been working to create a sepsis treatment system and large-scale public awareness campaigns. Their goal is to help people suffering from this condition to receive a quick diagnosis. This is the only way this previously unknown killer will finally come out of the shadows. /