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What is Sepsis?

Author: William Tsay

Editors: Angela Pan and He-Hanson Xuan

Artist: Daisy Zheng

We often think of our immune system as our body’s protectors; however, our own immune system can just as easily turn against us. Usually, when a pathogen enters our body, our immune system takes steps to get rid of it. Unfortunately, our body also has a bad habit of throwing a temper tantrum that can be incredibly dangerous for the human body, called sepsis – the body’s extreme reaction to an infection that can lead to organ failure and death.

Each year, around 1.5 million people in the United States are diagnosed with sepsis, and approximately 30% are fatal. The most common cause of sepsis is bacterial infections, but viral infections like COVID-19 and fungi can also induce the condition. Infections that lead to sepsis often start in the lungs, urinary tracts, skin, or gastrointestinal tracts. During normal infections, your body releases chemicals such as cytokines into the bloodstream to kill the bacteria. However, an excess amount of chemicals are released with sepsis, triggering a chain reaction throughout the body: exorbitant inflammation occurs, restricting blood flow to vital organs such as the heart, kidneys, and brain. This can cause tissue damage, organ failure, and death if not treated.

Symptoms of sepsis include high heart rate, confusion, extreme pain, fever, and shortness of breath. If a sepsis patient's blood pressure drops too low, it can result in organ failure, called septic shock. It is the most severe sepsis stage, with a 50% mortality rate. People above the age of 65 with a chronic medical condition or a weakened immune system are at a much higher risk of sepsis. Currently, there are no specific treatments for sepsis, and patients are given antibodies and fluids to attempt to address the cause and symptoms of the condition. Yet, with the resources scientists are pouring into finding a direct treatment, there is still hope.

 

Citations:

“Sepsis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Jan. 2021, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sepsis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351214.

“What Is Sepsis?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Aug. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/sepsis/what-is-sepsis.html#:~:text= Sepsis%20is%20the%20body's%20extreme,%2C%20skin%2C%20or%20gastro intestinal%20tract.

“Sepsis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12361-sepsis.

“National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).” National Institute of General Medical Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,

https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/fact-sheets/Pages/sepsis.aspx

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