How to recognize symptoms of potentially deadly sepsis

Cases of sepsis rise during flu season, experts say

By Allyson Henning - Reporter, Francine Frazier - Senior web producer

ORANGE PARK, Fla. - As flu season is heading into peak season, Orange Park Medical Center is spreading awareness around sepsis, the body’s overwhelming response to an infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 24 states, including Florida and Georgia, are experiencing widespread flu activity. In Northeast Florida, Duval, Clay, St. Johns and Nassau counties are seeing increased activity.

Viral illnesses, such as the flu, can sometimes trigger sepsis. For some, influenza (the flu) can cause pneumonia, which is a common cause of sepsis, medical experts said.

Dr. Jennifer Chapman, emergency physician at Orange Park Medical Center, said history shows that sepsis cases rise during flu season.

As many as 1 in 3 people diagnosed with sepsis die of their illness and those who survive can be left with chronic symptoms, such as fatigue, memory loss or difficulties with activities of daily living.

In extreme cases, sepsis can lead to amputation or organ dysfunction.

“It is so important that our community understands the symptoms of sepsis and the importance of seeking emergency medical help as soon as those symptoms are recognized,” Chapman said.

Dr. Steven Goodfriend, medical director of OPMC and Park West freestanding ER, said sepsis is one of the top three killers of people in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer. 

“There are many different stages of sepsis. There are early stages, there are minor types, but they are also severe and they are also ones that are life-threatening,” Goodfriend said.

In most cases, sepsis can be treated with antibiotics, intravenous fluids or medication that increases your blood pressure.

To help spread awareness, doctors are sending patients home with a sepsis self-management plan. Patients can work their way through questions, which are signs of infection, to determine whether or not they need to call a doctor.  

While low-grade fever and mild weakness may occur with any infection, the following symptoms are warning signs of sepsis and should be taken seriously:

  • Shivering, fever or feeling cold
  • Extreme pain or general discomfort (“feeling the worst pain ever”)
  • Pale or discolored skin
  • Severe sleepiness, difficulty waking or confusion
  • “I feel like I might die” feeling
  • Shortness of breath

If someone experiences two or more of these symptoms, it is recommended that they seek medical attention, Chapman said.

Chapman said the best way to avoid sepsis during flu season is to practice good hand hygiene, rest and let your body recover if you feel ill. If you come down with the flu, stay hydrated and rest.

Most importantly, get your flu vaccination.

Orange Park Medical Center is the only hospital in Clay County and one of two in the Jacksonville area that is certified by the Joint Commission for sepsis care.

While nationally as many as 30 percent of patients diagnosed with severe sepsis die, OPMC's rate is lower than that. Goodfriend credits OPMC's awareness efforts, quick diagnosis and aggressive treatment.

For more information on sepsis, go to sepsis.org.

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