Inside The Silent Killer | WGLT

Inside The Silent Killer

Apr 8, 2016

Actress Patty Duke passed away last week after developing sepsis.
Credit Grace Lyons / Flickr via Creative Commons

Close to 300,000 people die each year from sepsis, a condition that last week claimed a high profile victim:  Patty Duke. The actress died from the condition some call 'the silent killer' at the age of 69.

Sepsis is an infection in the blood.  Once its there, it can move swiftly through your body, inciting an inflammatory response which can result in inadequate blood supply to your major organs, which can lead to major organ failure and death.

According to Dr. Catherine Kaesberg of the Illinois State University Mennonite College of Nursing, sepsis is mistakenly considered to be something that just impacts the elderly.  Sepsis can, in fact, impact people of any age and it can be sparked by any number of things.

'It's caused by an exposure to microorganisms, "said Kaesberg. 'It can be viral, but most often it's bacterial.  Any type of infectious exposure that becomes fulminating could become blood born and then lead to the syndrome.'

Dr. Catherine Kaesberg from Illinois State University's Mennonite College of Nursing says sepsis needs immediate professional care.
Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT

That type of reaction isn't common in people who are not immunocompromised, explained Kaesberg. People with weakened immune systems, babies and children, the elderly and those suffering from chronic illness are more vulnerable to acquiring infections that can lead to sepsis. Early symptoms include a fever, a fast heart rate, and an elevated white blood cell count.  If not checked, sepsis can quickly progress to a syndrome that can lead to shock.

'Sepsis can be managed with antibiotics,' Kaesberg said. 'But if it progresses without intervention, the blood pressure drops down very, very low to the point that the organs  have decreased blood supply and become damaged.'

There's no vaccination against sepsis, but vigilance can help guard against it, said Kaesberg. 'As caregivers, we must be meticulous about how we control microbe exposure in our healthcare environment.'

Kaesberg says the sooner you receive treatment for sepsis, the better your chances for recovery.  If you even suspect you might have sepsis, contact your healthcare provider.