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October 2, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sepsis, a systemic over-response to infection, kills more Americans each year than prostate cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined. In an effort to speed the treatment of sepsis and help save lives, Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center is distributing handheld devices to help local paramedics make a quicker diagnosis in the field.
The meters measure the amount of lactate in the blood. A high level of lactate means the blood is not able to carry enough oxygen, which can be an early indicator of sepsis.
“If sepsis is suspected, paramedics can alert the nearest emergency department to have a team ready to provide immediate care,” says Dr. Mark Moseley, medical director for Emergency Services at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. “The lactate meter can provide data that helps us decide which patients are at higher risk of critical illness and allows us to treat them expeditiously and more aggressively.”
Once a paramedic alerts Ohio State’s emergency physicians to a potentially septic patient, a medical team assembles in preparation for their arrival. Fast treatment with antibiotics and medication to prevent low blood pressure and sustain vital organs can reduce long-term medical conditions and save lives.
“It is truly a medical emergency, like a heart attack or stroke,” says Dr. Eric Adkins, an emergency medicine and critical care specialist at Ohio State. “A lot of attention has been paid to early recognition of a heart attack, and that work has translated into better survival and improved outcomes. That is the model for what we are trying to do with sepsis.”
John Harris, chief of the Clinton Township Division of Fire, was among the first in the Columbus area to equip his medic unit with a lactate meter. Harris survived a battle with sepsis two years ago and knows firsthand how quickly the illness can take hold.
“I didn’t have any reason to think I was sick. One morning I went for a cup of coffee and on my way home I got really tired, disoriented and cold, very cold. My wife called 911 and I was in intensive care for a week,” said Harris.
Of the 750,000 Americans who develop sepsis each year, 20 percent die from the illness. For those with severe sepsis, the mortality rate climbs to 40 percent, and for septic shock it is approximately 60 percent. Any type of infection can lead to sepsis, including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, influenza or wound infections.
People over age 65, as well as children or those with compromised immune systems, are at higher risk of developing and dying from sepsis. Some of the early signs that someone might be septic include: rapid breathing, confusion, chills, fever and light-headedness due to low blood pressure.
“Earlier detection of sepsis will help save lives. There is a lot of research into improving recognition and treatment of sepsis, but we still have a long way to go,” said Adkins.