Fleming: State gains new tools to battle sepsis

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INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana will gain powerful new tools to battle the life-threatening illness called sepsis under a new law co-authored by State Rep. Rita Fleming (D-Jeffersonville) that takes effect July 1.

House Enrolled Act 1275 calls for the development of guidelines that hospitals can use to recognize and treat patients with sepsis, severe sepsis, and septic shock.

“Sepsis is considered the leading cause of death in hospitals,” Fleming said. “It is an illness that results when the body’s immune system must go into overdrive to fight an infection. It often results in damage through the bloodstream and other tissues, causing organ failure and death.

“This is one of those illnesses that affects young and old and those with chronic illnesses, but as an obstetrician, I am particularly concerned about the toll that sepsis can take on women during pregnancy and the post-partum period,” she continued.  “A study in California determined that sepsis was the fifth-greatest cause of maternal deaths in that state.

“What that study also determined is that there is a very good chance of preventing sepsis through early detection or treatment, and it is in these areas that we hope the provisions of HEA 1275 can be of the greatest help,” Fleming said. “Some of the symptoms of sepsis run contrary to what is normally expected from an illness: a temperature of 96 or 97 degrees may be a more ominous sign than a fever of 104 or 105. Sepsis also can carry such early warning signs as a high heart rate, change in mental status, shortness of breath, and extreme pain.

“In many cases related to childbirth, early detection can help us identify sepsis and allow for treatment that includes fluid resuscitation, aggressive antibiotic therapy, tissue debridement, and even hysterectomies,” she noted. “HEA 1275 allows us to formulate a comprehensive protocol that can help us identify how sepsis can occur, and provide health care professionals with the means to detect early warning signs and formulate an effective treatment plan.”

A key component of the process is a Sepsis Treatment Guideline Task Force that Fleming said would help to develop the practices used to identify and treat the illness. This task force would include physicians, hospital officials, nurses, pharmacists, and a representative from a family that has been impacted by the illness. Its provisions then would be implemented by the Indiana State Department of Health.

“This group will be the starting point for determining the scope of the problem in Indiana, then detailing the most effective means of treatment and recovery,” Fleming said. “It is my belief that the impact of sepsis can be drastically reduced if it is caught and treated in time. HEA 1275 will provide the vehicle to achieve that goal.”

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