Sepsis breakthrough could save thousands

The human body is adept at managing infection, but is by no means perfect. Sometimes it produces the wrong reaction, and the consequences can be devastating, even fatal. This potentially fatal response is known as sepsis, and it’s the cause of one in five deaths globally every year.

There is, however, promising news at hand. A team of Australian researchers have completed a study that shows a slight modification in treatment could prevent some of these deaths. Importantly, this reduction in sepsis deaths could be achieved without needing to develop any new drugs.

What happens to patients with sepsis?

Your body’s natural reaction to an infection is to attack it via the immune system. In the case of sepsis, instead of targeting the infection, it attacks your organs and tissues. Unsurprisingly, this can have serious consequences. Sepsis can lead to septic shock, organ failure and even death if it’s not diagnosed and treated early.

Even with treatment, there can still be fatalities. While sepsis can affect anyone, older people, along with the very young and pregnant women, are at higher risk.

Sepsis can present a variety of symptoms. These include fever or low temperature, chills, uncontrolled shaking, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, tiredness and headache. Further symptoms can include confusion or anxiety, nausea and vomiting, difficulty breathing, mottled skin, a sudden drop in blood pressure, drowsiness or impaired consciousness, chest pain and reduced urine production.

The consequences of sepsis can be catastrophic. Even those who avoid death can be left with a devastating legacy, including the loss of limbs. Early and effective treatment is therefore critical.

The breakthrough

Scientists from the University of Queensland and the George Institute for Global Health have completed a clinical trial involving more than 7000 patients. One group was given antibiotics in the standard way – three or four doses daily. 

The other group was given the same dose but as a continuous infusion over a number of days. A systematic review of the results showed that continuous infusion came out the ‘winner’.

Intravenously administering penicillin-like antibiotics via continuous infusion cured infections, thus saving lives. The study concluded those treated with prolonged infusion had “a reduced risk of 90-day mortality compared with intermittent infusion”.

Clinicians should “consider prolonged infusions as a standard of care in the management of sepsis and septic shock”, the authors concluded.

Sepsis around the world and in Australia

The implications of the findings could be huge, globally speaking. Study co-author Professor Jason Roberts, director of the University of Queensland’s Centre for Clinical Research, explained why. “This simple intervention uses commonly available antibiotics,” he said. “Even small hospitals in third-world countries can implement the dosing change almost as easily as well-resourced hospitals in developed countries.”

But sepsis is by no means a disease that affects only developing countries. Of the 11 million deaths from sepsis recorded each year worldwide, 8000 are in Australia.

The breakthrough, therefore, could potentially save the life of someone close to you.

Do you know someone who has been diagnosed with sepsis? What was the outcome? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Viagra may protect against vascular dementia, research finds

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


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