Simple measures cut sepsis deaths nearly in half

Sepsis, commonly called blood poisoning, is a common affliction that can affect people of all ages. A series of simple measures tested at a Norwegian hospital can make a difference in successfully treating sepsis.
Researchers were able to cut the number of patients who died from sepsis, or infections that spread to the bloodstream, by 40percent (from 12.5percent to 7.1percent) after the introduction of relatively simple steps at the wards at Levanger Hospital in Nord-Trondelag, Norway.
The steps, which included increased training and a special observation chart, were introduced as part of a research project carried out by Nord University, Levanger Hospital, and the Mid-Norway Centre for Sepsis Research at NTNU and St. Olavs Hospital in Trondheim, Norway.
‘This study suggests that ward nurses have a key function in increasing the survival for patients with serious infection. The use of cost-effective and clear tools for the identification of sepsis and the scoring of severity in patients as well as a standardized treatment course can achieve this,’ says Erik Solligard, the senior author of the study and head of the Mid-Norway Centre for Sepsis Research. ‘These simple steps should be implemented in all Norwegian hospitals.’
According to the Global Sepsis Alliance, a worldwide alliance of healthcare providers working to increase knowledge about the problem, the majority of sepsis cases are caused by common infections. Pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections like cellulitis and infections in the abdomen (such as appendicitis) can cause sepsis, as well as invasive medical procedures like the insertion of a catheter into a blood vessel. The Alliance says sepsis is the primary cause of death from infection, despite advances in modern medicine like vaccines, antibiotics, and intensive care.
‘Sepsis is a very common and serious condition that many people die from,’ Solligard says. ‘Patients with lifestyle diseases such as diabetes or cancer are particularly at risk. However, sepsis doesn’t attract nearly as much attention.’
Solligard said rates of sepsis are expected to increase in the future, fuelled by the double problem of increasing incidences of lifestyle diseases and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. For that reason, hospitals should have a standardized observation regime so sepsis can be diagnosed early in its progression, and should create clear treatment plans for addressing sepsis, he said.
‘We need much more research on sepsis, especially on how the illness can be prevented,’ he said.
In their study, the researchers created a flow-chart for the identification of sepsis and an observation chart with a severity score that nurses at Levanger Hospital could use at the ward (for triage). Doctors who worked in the ward were given written information, whereas nurses and nursing students were given a 4-hour training course, and the treatment course was standardized with clear guidelines for doctors and nurses.
In addition to increasing survival, the use of these measures reduced the development of serious sepsis during hospital stays by 30percent and the number of days in intensive care was reduced by an average of 3.7 days per patient, thus making the methods not only life-saving, but simple and cost effective.