Sepsis and Seniors


September is Sepsis Awareness Month and September 13, 2018, is World Sepsis Day. 

Sepsis is a Life Threatening Emergency

Sepsis or septicemia which was once commonly referred to as blood poisoning is a life-threatening medical emergency where an infection gets out-of-hand and begins to spread very fast throughout the body. If untreated it can very quickly lead to organ failure and death. It can follow surgery or only a small injury that gets infected. It can also be the result of an untreated urinary tract infection (UTI) and this is called urosepsis. Sepsis can spread very rapidly within a few hours and it is important for seniors and their caregivers to be able to recognize the early signs of sepsis, as the sooner treatment is initiated the better is the chance that it will succeed. The goal of Sepsis Awareness Month is to teach people what it is, how to recognize it and the need to call for help as fast as possible.

Sepsis can be Treated if Caught in Time

Every year more than 1.5 million people get sepsis and about 270,000 Americans die from it. One out of every three patients who die in the hospital die from sepsis. Sepsis is the leading cause of death in US hospitals in non-cardiac intensive care units and is the 10th cause of death in the United States. Sepsis occurs when an infection gets out-of-hand and begins to spread throughout the body. This causes an extreme overwhelming inflammatory response that damages tissue and if not treated in time will proceed to organ failure, amputations and death. The good thing about sepsis is that it is treatable if caught in time. However, many people do not know what sepsis is or how to recognize the signs in time to phone 911 and save a life.

Sepsis is Treated in the Hospital

Sepsis is treated in the hospital by antibiotics  and sometimes by intravenous IV and oxygen. Cultures are taken to see exactly which bacteria are causing the infection and to see which antibiotics can successfully treat it. Usually, the patient with sepsis is kept in isolation away from other patients.

Bacteria that are Resistant to Antibiotics

The main problem today is the rise of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics like MRSW a form of Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to today’s antibiotics and therefore is very difficult to treat. Since hospitals are the best place to pick up dangerous strains of bacteria, they no longer keep patients for long stretches after surgery like they used to.

Signs of Sepsis

If you or your loved one has an infection and also shows any of these signs you should seek immediate medical attention. Do not wait to see if the infection gets worse. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that you should ask your doctor if this could be sepsis. Phone 911 right away.

  • Short of breath
  • A rapid heart beat
  • Fever or chills
  • Feeling cold is often an indication that someone has a fever. However, many people with sepsis do not get fevers, but actually get hypothermia from sepsis. So if someone has a temperature that is too low this can also be a sign of sepsis.
  • Extreme pain around the wound or all over the body
  • Clammy skin wet with sweat or perspiration
  • Feeling very bad and ill after an operation or after getting a wound
  • Confused, drowsy and disoriented

Preventing Sepsis

Practice Strict Hygiene

  • Wash your hands often, especially after using the bathroom and before touching food and ask other people around you to do the same.
  • Treat cuts with an antiseptic and keep cuts covered with a band-aid.
  • Get expert help in learning how to treat chronic wounds and bed sores.
  • Keep in mind that cancer patients with weakened immune systems cannot fight infections and are very susceptible to getting sepsis. Chemotherapy leads to a drop in neutrophils (Neutropenia), which are a kind of white blood cells that fight infections. Download the Cancer, Infection and Sepsis Fact Sheet which can give you lots of help if you or your loved one have cancer.
  • Keep away from crowded places and away from places where there are a lot of sick people.
  • Bathe or shower every day unless there is a medical reason not to.
  • If you touch animals or clean up after them or change a cat litter box, wash your hands immediately, even if you wore gloves.
  • Do not share drinking cups, plates, cutlery or cosmetics like lipstick with anyone else. Of course, it goes without saying never to share a tooth-brush with anyone.
  • Make sure to clean your teeth and gums properly with a soft tooth-brush. If you have dentures keep them spotlessly clean with denture cleaner.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
  • Use disposable gloves when handling raw meat, raw fish or eggs, as these are loaded with bacteria. Be extra careful about handling whole fish to make sure you do not get pierced with their sharp fins. Fresh fish can carry pond disease, which can lead to amputations.
  • Cook meat until it is well done.
  • Do not eat raw eggs, as they often are infected with salmonella bacteria.
  • Use hand cream and body lotion to keep your skin from drying out and cracking. Cracks in the skin can get infected.
  • Use heavy-duty gloves when gardening to prevent infections.
  • Make sure your vaccinations for tetanus are up-to-date. A tetanus booster has to be given every 10 years. Now it is usually given together with diphtheria. This is especially important if you garden or are around animals.

Aging and Frailty Increase the Risk for Sepsis

The older one gets the greater is the chance to develop sepsis. Many seniors who contract sepsis get discharged from the hospital straight to short-term rehabilitation or long-term skilled nursing care, especially if the sepsis led to amputations.

Short-term Rehabilitation or Long-term Skilled Nursing Care

If you or your loved one are in need of short or long-term rehabilitation and skilled nursing care after having had sepsis, make sure to choose a facility that is experienced in wound care and also that has enough staff on hand to see that you or your loved one get turned often enough not to develop bed and pressure sores. These can get infected and also lead to sepsis. To learn more about wound care please see our blog post from July 4, 2018.

Royal Suites Healthcare and Rehabilitation in Galloway Township, New Jersey

Royal Suites Healthcare and Rehabilitation is a 5-star rehabilitation and skilled nursing care facility in Galloway Township, New Jersey surrounded by eight acres of woods and beautiful gardens. They are highly skilled in dealing with complex kinds of wound care and have dedicated staff members to see that your loved one does not develop bed sores.


Everyone should learn how to recognize the early signs of sepsis, so that they can phone 911 in time to save someone before it can progress to organ failure, amputations or death.


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