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Study: Statewide Sepsis Protocols May Save Lives

Janice Carr
CDC via AP
E. coli is one of the bacteria that can cause sepsis.

Sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals, killing about a quarter of a million Americans each year. New research from the University of Pittsburgh shows statewide protocols to fight the infection appear to reduce the number of deaths it causes.

In 2013, New York State enacted Rory's Regulations, a set of policies every hospital needs to follow if a patient has sepsis. The regulations are named for 12-year-old Rory Staunton, who died suddenly of the infection after cutting his leg. Sepsis is when the body responds to an infection by attacking its own organs and tissues.

The Pitt study showed between 2011 and 2015, the sepsis mortality rate in New York went down by more than four percent. Other, non-regulated states studied also lowered mortality rates, but by smaller margins.

"This provides a really strong rational for other states adopting regulations similar to those in New York State," said lead author Jeremy Kahn, professor of critical care medicine at Pitt.

New York, New Jersey, and Illinois are the only states with regulations on how hospitals treat sepsis. However, Kahn said healthcare providers should have some flexibility because sepsis is complex.

"When you're standing at the bedside, trying to care for a very sick patient with a very bad infection with organ failures that are threatening their life, you do need some degrees of freedom to customize care to that patient," Kahn said.

A Pitt study from earlier this year used machine learning to determine that there are four subtypes of sepsis, which vary in aggression and impact to the body. That study's lead author said further research will be done to see if certain treatments are more effective on different types of sepsis.

A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Health said the state is in the process of updating hospital and nursing home regulations, and that sepsis protocols are being considered. 

WESA recieves funding from the University of Pittsburgh.