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What is a Sepsis Protocol?

By Andrea Sigust
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A sepsis protocol, also referred to as a sepsis bundle treatment, is a set of guidelines for treating sepsis. Sepsis is a medical condition in which the body responds to a potentially serious bacterial infection in the blood by developing critically widespread inflammation. The premise for creating a sepsis protocol is to lower the rate of progression and mortality by administering an organized and targeted treatment approach as efficiently as possible.

The terms "sepsis" and "systemic inflammatory response syndrome" (SIRS) are often used interchangeably, and although they are related, they are different conditions. SIRS is a whole-body inflammatory response that can be caused by various things such as trauma, burns and hemorrhage. When SIRS is caused by infection, then it is called sepsis.

There are several types of bacteria that can cause sepsis, including meningococcus and pneumococci. The bacteria can enter and start an infection anywhere in the body, such as through the bowel, liver, lungs, skin and kidney. When hospitalized patients develop sepsis, common infection sites include surgical wounds, drains, intravenous lines and bedsores.

Symptoms of sepsis vary and can include chills, decreased urine output, fever and a severe drop in blood pressure. Some of the earliest signs of sepsis include delirium and hyperventilation. Shock and a failure of body systems and major organs are signs of advanced sepsis.

Millions of people worldwide are affected by sepsis, which has a high mortality rate. This is in part because sepsis is not easily diagnosed — especially in a critical care environment. A person who suffers from sepsis exhibits symptoms that are similar to many conditions, including primary conditions for which the patient might already be receiving treatment. By the time sepsis is diagnosed, the condition might have progressed to severe sepsis or septic shock.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition whereby levels of symptoms can occur and progress rapidly. A mild form of sepsis can easily evolve into advanced forms of the condition within a short span of time. For this reason, medical professionals have created a protocol to treat the condition.

A sepsis protocol is also called a sepsis bundle treatment. Bundles are groups of strategic medical interventions. With sepsis, these bundles or protocols are primarily geared toward supporting failing organs and systems while simultaneously combating the infection. Sepsis protocols are not universally administered at every health care facility but are increasingly becoming a standard mode of operation. Sepsis protocol will vary from one organization to another but generally will include a checklist of indicators for condition levels with corresponding actions, treatments, time frames and rationales.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1001013 — On Feb 18, 2019

The work of Dr Paul Marik needs to be made known urgently. He has saved many lives.

By Rotergirl — On Aug 27, 2014

@Pippinwhite -- You know, as I was reading this article, I was thinking that surely, most hospitals had some kind of procedures in place to prevent or detect early infection! Glad you mentioned it.

When my cousin had a ruptured spleen, we had to put gowns on before we could go in to see him, because of the risk of infection to him. We couldn't hug him or have any touch contact with him.

I would imagine that any hospital that cared even a little about the welfare of its patients (to say nothing of not wanting to be sued) would be interested in making sure sepsis appears as rarely as possible in their patients.

By Pippinwhite — On Aug 26, 2014

Any halfway decent hospital will have sepsis protocols in place. Not only do these involve treatment, but also early diagnosis, and most important, prevention.

All care staff are instructed to glove up as soon as they go into the patient's room, and to sanitize their hands before and after being in the room. Visitors are also asked to use the hand sanitizer available everywhere in most hospitals before they visit someone. They are also asked not to disturb any dressings or wounds, but always to call a staff member if something is wrong.

Also, any person in ICU, who has had surgery or has any kind of wound should have a white count drawn every day, or every other day, for the duration. This may be the first signal that the person may be getting septic. An elevated white blood cell count is a frontline sign of infection -- perhaps before any other symptoms appear.

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