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HomeWorld NewsThe problem of antimicrobial resistance in the fight against sepsis

The problem of antimicrobial resistance in the fight against sepsis


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Can you introduce yourself and tell us about the history of Sepsis Research FEAT? What is the organization’s mission?

My name is Dr. Catharina Hartman and I am a trustee of the charity Sepsis Research FEAT. The charity was originally founded in May 2013 as FEAT (Fiona Elizabeth Agnew Trust) by Dr Fiona Agnew’s husband, Craig, with support from six of the couple’s friends. The charity was created in memory of Fiona and her unborn daughter, Isla, who lost their lives to sepsis in the summer of 2012.

Sepsis Research FEAT’s mission has always been to save lives and improve outcomes for patients with sepsis worldwide by funding sepsis research and raising awareness. Ultimately, we want to find a cure for sepsis.

Each year, nearly 50 million people are diagnosed with sepsis. What is sepsis and how is it diagnosed?

In its simplest terms, sepsis is an overreaction of the body to an infection. Any infection can instigate this: viral, bacterial, or fungal, but among the most common are pneumonia and UTIs.

Infections are recognized by our immune system, which then triggers a cascade of reactions to counter the infection, called the inflammatory response. Sepsis occurs when these normally healing reactions are no longer in balance, affecting not only the infection but everything around it, including the body’s own tissues and organs.

Sepsis is sometimes confused with sepsis or blood poisoning. The latter is now known as bacteremia, which refers to bacteria in the bloodstream. The term sepsis refers to the constellation of negative effects resulting from the unbalanced inflammatory response.

Sepsis is the number one cause of preventable death globally, accounting for the loss of around 11 million lives annually worldwide. It’s an indiscriminate and deadly condition that can kill a previously healthy adult in a matter of hours, and that’s despite all the advances in vaccines, antibiotics, and intensive care.

Particularly in the early stages, sepsis can be difficult to diagnose due to the similarity of its symptoms to those of other diseases.

There is currently no specific treatment for sepsis itself and identifying such a treatment or treatments is one of the key objectives of the research the charity is funding through the GenOMICC project at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh.

Image Credit: Kateryna Kon / ShutterstockImage Credit: Kateryna Kon / Shutterstock

Since sepsis occurs as an extreme reaction to infection, are there groups of people who are at higher risk of contracting the condition?

The very young and very old are potentially more susceptible to sepsis, as are those with weakened immune systems. Clinicians need to be aware of factors that affect clinical judgments, such as assessing alertness in people with learning difficulties, determining confusion when there is a language barrier, or the ability to detect a rash in someone with dark skin. These are just some of the factors that make it more difficult and can cause a delay in the recognition and diagnosis of sepsis. However, sepsis can affect anyone of any age at any time. There only needs to be an underlying infection for sepsis to become a possibility.

Globally, one in five deaths is associated with sepsis. Given this fact, why is it important to raise awareness and ensure that people are aware of the early symptoms of this condition?

In the UK, around 50,000 people a year continue to die from sepsis. Of the approximately 200,000 who survive a sepsis episode, around 100,000 will experience long-term side effects and other serious outcomes that affect their physical and mental well-being.

Ensuring that patients with sepsis receive timely treatment is key to improving their chances of survival and ensuring a positive prognosis. It is important that people begin to be able to recognize the symptoms of sepsis in themselves and in others to ensure that they seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Image Credit: Parilov / ShutterstockImage Credit: Parilov / Shutterstock

The theme of Global Antimicrobial Awareness Week 2022 is “Preventing Antimicrobial Resistance Together”. What effect does antimicrobial resistance (AMR) have on sepsis? Also, how does AMR exacerbate the burden of sepsis?

The use of antibiotics is one of the first lines of defense when treating a patient with sepsis. AMR means that the antibiotics we use are no longer effective in treating infections quickly. The longer it takes to address the infection, the more likely it is that the inflammatory response will continue, keeping the negative effects on the patient’s tissues and organs in motion and leading to consequences such as amputations or PTSD.

According to the World Health Organization, many sepsis deaths are preventable. Are you hopeful that tackling antimicrobial resistance can also decrease sepsis infections and mortality worldwide?

Decreasing the incidence of sepsis is related to being able to treat a source infection quickly and effectively, and AMR makes this increasingly difficult. Addressing AMR and ensuring that the right antibiotic is given at the right time is very likely to help in the effective treatment of patients with sepsis and in ensuring that they have a positive outcome.

Image Credit: Sakura/ShutterstockImage Credit: Sakura/Shutterstock

What are the next steps for you and Sepsis Research FEAT?

Sepsis Research FEAT remains committed to funding research on the understanding and treatment of sepsis through its existing partnerships as well as new research collaborations that we are developing all the time. In addition, we will continue to raise awareness about sepsis through our work with government agencies and the general public, for example by sharing individual sepsis stories.

Where can readers find more information?

You can learn more about Sepsis Research FEAT and our work by visiting our website here.

About Dr. Catharina Hartman

Dr Catharina Hartman is a consultant in Emergency Medicine at Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital and Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Originally from South Africa, she has lived in Scotland since 2006. Her interest in sepsis expanded while undergoing specialized training in Adult Intensive Care Medicine and this led to her involvement in the development of a sepsis screening assessment for infants and children presenting to the Emergency Department. She continues to be involved in quality improvement work specifically related to sepsis treatment.


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