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Health care leaders in Pa. join forces to slow sepsis deaths

Health care industry leaders are looking to each other to learn and brainstorm new ways to fight a deadly infection that claimed 9,000 Pennsylvanian lives in 2015.

The silent killer, called sepsis, is triggered by infections that can be contracted at home or in the hospital, said Dr. Thomas Tracy, chief medical officer at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Sepsis happens when an infection in one part of the body spreads and impacts the function of organ systems, causing the organs to fail, Tracy said.

Sepsis is impossible to prevent, and it is difficult to discover ahead of time, he said, pointing out that even when doctors know a patient has an infection, “how it then shifts to sepsis, that’s what we’re still trying to study and understand.”

Sepsis conference held in Harrisburg

Last week the Pennsylvania Department of Health held its first conference on sepsis in Harrisburg, bringing together more than 200 health care leaders from across the state to work together to improve sepsis treatment in the commonwealth.

The “Stopping Sepsis: Saving Lives in Pennsylvania Conference” was “very timely,” Tracy said. “This is such an important area of study for every single major medical system and every small hospital.”

And sepsis doesn’t just impact patients in hospitals, but it can also happen at nursing homes and assisted living areas. Patients are susceptible to sepsis at all ages, from all sorts of neighborhoods and living situations, Tracy said.

At the conference, health care providers shared stories on how they handled sepsis – cases such as a patient coming to the emergency room for one thing, and 36 hours that patient is dead – and Tracy said it was helpful to hear of other people in the medical field challenged with similar experiences.

“People are working so hard on how to discover it and treat patients early enough,” Tracy said, adding that it is a top quality effort happening right now at Hershey Medical Center.

“This is where we can probably make our biggest impact, if we can find the causes and get the right treatments,” Tracy said.

Sepsis is the most expensive condition treated in U.S. hospitals, costing them more than $20 billion in 2011, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Lenay Ruhl

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