Recognizing early warning signs, getting timely treatment, and preventing infections that can lead to sepsis are critical to saving lives
The New York State Office for the Aging and the New York State Department of Health urge caregivers and older New Yorkers, particularly those with chronic illnesses, and/or a weakened or impaired immune system, to learn to recognize the early warning signs of sepsis, to get immediate treatment, and to learn how to prevent infections that could lead to sepsis.
Sepsis is a progressive shutdown of the body's organs and systems caused by systemic inflammation following an infection that enters the blood or soft tissue. Those who don’t die often experience life-altering consequences like missing limbs or organ dysfunction. Studies have shown that early detection combined with appropriate interventions can significantly improve the chances of survival.
“Sepsis is a very serious illness for people of all ages, but it can be devastating for older adults, particularly those with health issues,” said New York State Office for the Aging Acting Director Greg Olsen. “The key to preventing sepsis is to prevent an infection from occurring in the first place. If an infection does set in, it must be treated as quickly and effectively as possible.”
“With the flu season approaching, it’s important to remind people—especially caregivers—to be diligent and proactive in looking for signs of sepsis, which comes on quickly and can be fatal,” said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker. “Simple precautions, like frequent handwashing and flu vaccinations, can prevent the underlying illnesses that often lead to sepsis.”
In New York State, someone dies from sepsis every two minutes, and someone is hospitalized due to sepsis every 20 seconds. Approximately 50,000 people in New York are diagnosed with severe sepsis or septic shock each year; of those, 30% of adults and 9% of children die in the hospital from sepsis. It is the leading cause of hospital readmissions and the top cost for avoidable hospitalizations in New York. More than 80% of sepsis cases begin outside of the hospital. Home care patients are at particular risk for sepsis, as the condition can often go unnoticed until it becomes life-threatening.
In 2013, under the leadership of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York became the first state in the nation to enact sepsis regulations. New York is also the first state that publishes hospital specific sepsis data in public reports. A study published this year determined that the regulations, which established first-in-the-nation protocols for hospitals to improve identification and treatment of sepsis, resulted in a nearly 15% reduction in mortality rates for adults with sepsis. In March of this year, Governor Cuomo was recognized for his leadership on sepsis with the Global Sepsis Alliance Award for implementing these lifesaving sepsis protocols.
People aged 65 years and older make up 65% of sepsis cases in the hospitals. Statistics indicate that older severe sepsis survivors were three times more likely to suffer a mental decline, making it impossible for them to return to their previous living arrangements, and often resulting in admission into a long-term health care facility. The risk of dying from severe sepsis or septic shock also increases with age.
Prevention and early recognition of the warning signs of sepsis are critical.
Key to preventing sepsis is stopping an infection from occurring in the first place. Proper and frequent hand washing decreases the risk of getting an infection. In addition, many illnesses can be prevented through regular vaccinations, such as flu or pneumonia shots. If an infection does set in, it must be taken seriously and treated immediately.
Death from sepsis increases 8% every hour that treatment is delayed. As many as 80% of sepsis deaths may be prevented with rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Signs of sepsis among adults include:
Change in body temperature, either a fever (above 101.3 degrees F) or a lower than normal temperature (below 95 degrees F)
Rapid heart rate (above 90 beats per minute)
Rapid breathing (above 20 breaths per minute)
Confusion, which may be more common among older people
Sepsis can move into severe sepsis quickly, so getting help and treatment as quickly as possible is vital
For more information, please visit the New York State Department of Health or www.sepsis.org.
About the New York State Office for the Aging
The mission of the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) is to help older New Yorkers be as independent as possible for as long as possible through advocacy, development and delivery of person-centered, consumer-oriented, and cost-effective policies, programs, and services that support and empower older adults and their families, in partnership with the network of public and private organizations that serve them. Stay connected to the New York State Office for the Aging—download the NYSOFA mobile app for iOS or Android; visit the NYSOFA Facebook page; follow @NYSAGING on Twitter; or visit www.aging.ny.gov.