Leading doctors have warned unless the sepsis disease treatment does not have a new strategy, deaths will not be curbed.
They stated that medical and public recognition of sepsis, thought to contribute to between a third and a half of all hospital deaths, must improve if the numbers of deaths from this common and potentially life-threatening condition are to fall.
Professor Jonathan Cohen and colleagues outlined the current state of research into this little-understood condition, and highlight priority areas for future investigation.
Sepsis, sometimes misleadingly called "blood poisoning," is a common condition whereby an infection triggers an extreme immune response, resulting in widespread inflammation, blood clotting, and swelling. Among the early (but not universal) symptoms of sepsis are high temperature and fast breathing; if left untreated, it frequently leads to organ failure and death.
Although no specific cure for the condition exists, it can often be treated effectively with intensive medical care including antibiotics and intravenous fluid, if identified early enough.
In low-income and middle-income countries, where most sepsis cases occur outside hospital, there are virtually no data on the condition's incidence, and the number of people killed by sepsis was likely to far exceed the already high rates in more wealthy countries.
Moreover, rising rates of antibiotic resistance globally mean that even if mortality rates from sepsis are improving in some high-income countries, there was no room for complacency.
In addition to the high fatality rate from sepsis, survivors are at an increased risk of long-term chronic illness and mental or physical impairment, although research into the long-term consequences of surviving sepsis is relatively scarce, so doctors have little evidence available on which to base long-term care plans for these patients.
The Commission outlines a roadmap for future research into sepsis, highlighting a number of critical factors that need to change in the field if treatment and diagnosis of sepsis was to improve.
Recommendations include prioritizing research into biomarkers for sepsis, which would allow quicker diagnosis; better education of medical staff and improving public awareness to ensure earlier recognition; rethinking clinical trial design; recognizing that sepsis affects different patients differently and using the power of modern genetics to develop targeted treatments ("personalized medicine"); and, after dozens of failed trials in recent decades, ensuring that universities and drug companies do not abandon research into new drug treatments.
The study is published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.