Sepsis can occur when your body’s natural immune system releases too many chemicals into your blood. This causes widespread inflammation that can quickly lead to blood clots, internal bleeding, organ damage, and in severe cases, death.
The initial infection that causes sepsis can be fungal, viral, or bacterial. According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), bacterial infections are the most common cause of sepsis.
Why Nursing Home Residents Are at Higher Risk for Sepsis
The Mayo Clinic confirms that elderly people are more likely to develop sepsis. This is particularly true for nursing home residents.
The risk of sepsis is greater for nursing home residents for several reasons:
- They live in close quarters (often sharing a room), with communal dining and recreational activities.
- Nursing home residents may already have compromised immune systems, due to chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or cancer.
- They are more likely to need invasive medical devices, like catheters or breathing tubes.
- If they are bedridden, they are more prone to bed sores or pressure ulcers, which open the skin to potential infection.
- They may have grown immune to standard antibiotics or they are at risk for dangerous drug interactions if antibiotics are combined with other medications.
It is possible that someone who survives sepsis is more vulnerable to future infections and could contract sepsis again, according to the NIGMS.
How Sepsis Is Treated
There is no time to waste if your spouse or parent develops sepsis. Most nursing homes cannot treat sepsis as effectively as a hospital’s intensive care unit.
Doctors and nurses will first try to stop the infection from doing more damage.
Most of the time, sepsis is treated with:
- Antibiotics (or several rounds of antibiotics), often given intravenously
- Pain relief so that the patient can rest
- Fever-reducing medication
- IV fluids to avoid dehydration
Sometimes surgery is necessary to remove an infected organ or body part.
The NIGMS estimates that 1.7 million adults in America develop sepsis each year. Approximately 270,000 people will die from sepsis, and sadly, the numbers tend to increase each year.
This increase in septic cases may be attributed to:
- People are living longer in general, including those with chronic medical conditions.
- As our population ages, more people are moving into nursing homes.
- More people have organ transplants, which greatly increases the risk of sepsis.
- Antibiotics are prescribed more frequently, which may reduce their effectiveness in patients being treated for sepsis.
How Nursing Homes Can Take Steps to Prevent Sepsis
While there is no cure for sepsis right now, the best way to avoid this life-threatening condition is by preventing (or quickly treating) the underlying infection.
Your loved one is more at risk for developing sepsis if he or she is not getting proper care from nursing home staff.
A nursing home should take the following steps to prevent sepsis:
- Regularly turn and move bedridden or wheelchair-bound residents to avoid pressure points and bedsores that can create an open wound.
- Keep medical equipment such as catheters clean and sterilized.
- Observe patients with respiratory infections for signs of bronchitis or pneumonia.
- Make sure that patients with edema (swelling) do not develop cuts or wounds.
- Keep rooms and surfaces clean and disinfected.
- Check on ill residents for signs of sepsis, which can quickly become life-threatening.
You have the right to check on your loved one to make sure that he or she is receiving proper care. Visit regularly or if you live too far away, call on a regular basis. It’s a good idea to communicate with your loved one’s primary caregivers and the facility’s physician.
How to Recognize Sepsis in a Loved One
Sepsis might be difficult to recognize if your loved one is already sick with pneumonia, bronchitis, or another infection. Nursing home staff should always be on the lookout for sepsis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of sepsis include:
- Fever of 99 degrees or more
- Elevated heart rate
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Difficulty breathing (shortness of breath) or rapid breathing
- Sweaty or clammy skin
- Increased or sudden confusion or mental fogginess
- Low blood pressure
- Decreased urinary function
Nursing home residents with sepsis should be taken to the nearest emergency room to begin treatment.
What You Can Do if You Suspect Negligence
Sometimes, an elderly person will develop sepsis despite receiving excellent care. Other times, the cause of sepsis could have been prevented if the nursing home was more careful. If your loved one was diagnosed with sepsis and you suspect that the nursing home may be responsible, call Pintas & Mullins Law Firm today at (800) 842-6336. A member of our team will examine your case for free. We do not shy away from the tough cases. Our lawyers also work on a contingency basis, which means no upfront costs. We only receive payment if we secure a fair settlement on your behalf.