Recent research shows that the COVID-19 virus is responsible for sepsis. They also found that it plays a potentially deadly role during the early stages of the pandemic than previously thought.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that arises when the body’s response to an infection causes injury to its own tissues and organs. It is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.
Any type of infection can cause sepsis, but bacterial infections most commonly cause it. Viral or fungal infections can also cause it.
The symptoms of sepsis can vary depending on the severity of the infection and the organs that are affected. However, some common symptoms include Fever, Rapid heart rate, Rapid breathing, Confusion, Low blood pressure, and Pain.
Sepsis is treated with antibiotics and intravenous fluids. In some cases, patients may also need to be placed on a ventilator to help them breathe.
Tracking Viral Sepsis
Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital led the study. They delved into electronic health records (EHR) from five hospitals to conduct the research. They monitor the incidence of SARS-CoV-2-associated sepsis during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their findings were published in JAMA Network Open. It revealed that SARS-CoV-2 contributed to approximately one out of every six sepsis cases during the initial two and a half years of the pandemic.
The results of this study suggest that clinicians should reconsider their approach to treating sepsis. And also, this lays the groundwork for future surveillance of viral sepsis.
“Most people, including medical professionals, equate sepsis with bacterial infections.”Lead author Claire Shappell, MD, MPH, from the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
This perception has influenced treatment guidelines. It often mandates immediate antibiotic use for patients suspected of having sepsis. However, as Shappell points out, viral infections, including SARS-CoV-2, can trigger the same harmful immune response, leading to organ dysfunction seen in bacterial sepsis.
Addressing the Research Gap
Previous investigations into viral sepsis have limited in scope. To gain a more comprehensive and precise understanding of sepsis cases, the research team harnessed electronic health records from Mass General Brigham hospitals during the study period.
“Previous efforts to quantify the burden of SARS-CoV-2-associated sepsis have been limited by inconsistent definitions and under-recognition of viral sepsis.”Senior author Chanu Rhee of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
The team assessed the incidence and mortality of SARS-CoV-2-associated sepsis using clinical criteria based on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) sepsis surveillance definition.
Researchers Analysed the EHR data from March 2020 to November 2022. They identified 431,017 hospitalizations involving 261,595 individuals. During this period, 5.4% of hospitalizations were due to SARS-CoV-2 infections, and 28.2% of these had SARS-CoV-2-associated sepsis.
The study’s design and use of EHR data provide a blueprint for future research into sepsis with other viruses. The team aims to apply this method to larger, nationally representative datasets to gather broader epidemiological data on viral sepsis.
Shappell concludes, “Our study underscores the significant burden and poor outcomes associated with viral sepsis, while demonstrating the usefulness of EHR-based algorithms for monitoring both viral and bacterial sepsis. We also hope our findings emphasize that sepsis isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ condition; clinicians should tailor their diagnosis and treatment strategies to each patient’s specific syndrome and likely pathogen.”