MYRTLE BEACH — The problem with sepsis is that it’s the kind of thing that you might lie around home thinking you can shake.
Just give it a day or two.
But once it turns south, say health professionals, it does so with frightening speed and can quickly end a life.
“If you think you should go to a doctor,” said Dr. Thad Golden, critical care specialist and board certified pulmonologist at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center, “you probably should.”
Grand Strand Regional recently became just the second hospital in the nation to be certified by The Joint Commission for the quality of its sepsis care.
To get the designation, which has been offered since 2002, the hospital had to establish protocol and guidelines to identify and treat patients with sepsis, show evidence of education and collect data that shows the program has made a difference.
Grand Strand started looking at its process in April 2011, and data collection started in December 2011. The Joint Commission came to check the results this summer.
Sepsis is the body’s reaction to an infection.
Symptoms can include chills and/or fever, reduced mental alertness, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, increased heart rate, increased respiratory rate, low blood pressure, high or low white blood cell count and altered kidney or liver function.
What can happen when an infection goes untreated is that the body goes into hyperdrive trying to protect itself, and will do so by shutting down unrelated organs until a person dies.
If caught early enough, sepsis can be treated with antibiotics and fluids.
“Early recognition, early treatment is the No. 1 thing you can do,” said Tiffany Mahaffey, who until recently was Grand Strand’s sepsis coordinator, charged with educating patients and staff about the condition.
“The patient needs to know not to sit at home for a month before you see a doctor,” she said.
Grand Strand gets routine kinds of information from each patient who goes into the emergency department. The information is plugged into a computer, and one of the things programmed for an alert is sepsis.
As soon as it comes, said Mahaffey and Erin Wever, the current sepsis coordinator, the patient is given a broad-based antibiotic and fluids. Tests are conducted to determine the kind of infection and the specific antibiotic could be changed as a result.
Wever said that soon after patients begin treatment for sepsis, she will tell their families what is going on.
“The reaction is often one of shock because they decline so quickly,” she said.
Wever and Mahaffey, former intensive care unit nurses, and Golden, all said they have seen people die from sepsis. They say it is not only sad, but also frustrating.
“If that person had sought help earlier ...” Mahaffey said.
Golden said Grand Strand’s sepsis program has benchmarks for things such as fluid retention and blood pressure that should be met in the first hour of treatment, then the second hour of treatment and so on. If it can be controlled, he said, the hospital can reduce its sepsis morbidity rate by half.
And that’s no small thing, considering up to 60 percent of all sepsis patients don’t recover. With the proper treatment, early enough, that number can be cut in half, Golden said.
While children, people over 50, diabetics and people with suppressed immune systems are most at risk for sepsis, Golden said it can strike anyone.
Stories circulate about a beauty queen who died within days of contracting sepsis or the high school athlete who developed sepsis and died from a skinned knee. Golden said there could well be a genetic factor that makes some people more susceptible to sepsis than others.
But, “It can happen to almost anybody given the right factors,” he said.
Mahaffey and Wever educate all of Grand Strand’s staff about sepsis, and the hospital gives each patient an information brochure about it. Wever is looking at increasing the sphere of education by talking to groups outside the hospital. Other hospitals also have sought information from Grand Strand since it was certified.
Golden said the certification shows that Grand Strand has demonstrated it has the proper procedures to treat sepsis.
“It’s a source of pride,” he said. “It says we’re functioning at the highest level.”
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.