sepsis logoJust before Muppets creator Jim Henson appeared on the Arsenio Hall Show on May 4, 1990, he mentioned he felt tired and had a sore throat. Still feeling ill a week later, Henson consulted a doctor who simply prescribed aspirin. Two days later, Henson had problems breathing and was rushed to the hospital where he deteriorated rapidly. On the morning of May 16, 1990, Henson died of organ failure at the age of 53, the devastating result of sepsis.

One of the leading causes of death around the world, sepsis is when the body’s response to an infection injures its own tissues and organs. Common causes of sepsis include pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and skin infections caused by infected insect and dog bite or scratches. If caught early, sepsis is treatable. The trouble is, there is no single diagnostic test.

“Distinguishing sepsis from the original infection is not easy even for a seasoned clinician because the symptoms can be very similar,” said Texas Medical Center President and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Robert Robbins. “Frequently, family or friends are the ones who see something is just not right.”

Texas Medical Center is leading an effort to increase clinical and community awareness of sepsis and its symptoms. Some of the signs to watch for include feeling disproportionately ill (for instance, a skin infection that leads to loss of appetite or extreme dizziness) and getting worse rather than better while being treated for an infection.

“People wait too long. They don’t realize how fast things can happen,” said Dr.  Imrana Malik, chair of the Texas Medical Center Sepsis Awareness Committee and associate professor, Department of Critical Care at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “Sepsis tends to strike people over 65 or those with weakened immune systems. But, what is critical to remember is that everyone is susceptible.”

Sepsis is a life-threatening emergency. Look for:

  • Fever and shaking chills
  • Reduced mental alertness, sometimes with confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Altered kidney or liver function

To promote sepsis awareness, Texas Medical Center will host, “Silent Killer: Cruel Lessons, Critical Practices,” in MSB 3.001 on Friday, Sept. 13. Information booths and exhibits will be open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. At 11:30 a.m., the event will feature a panel discussion with medical experts in the field of sepsis, and patient and family stories. Health care workers and the general public are invited to attend this free event to learn more.

-Texas Medical Center