The CDC has declared a "medical emergency" about sepsis, a common medical complication it says is on the radar of too few people—including medical professionals, reports the Washington Post. The idea is for more people to raise the possibility of sepsis should symptoms appear. They range broadly from fever or chills to elevated heart rate, confusion, shortness of breath, and general pain, making it easy to miss—which health providers appear to do with some regularity. Sepsis occurs when someone's body fights an underlying infection so fully that their entire body becomes inflamed in a sort of "friendly fire," which results in problems that can include blood clots, reduced blood flow to organs, organ failure, and death, reports the New York Times.
It typically follows an illness such as pneumonia or infections of the skin, gut, or urinary tract, with the elderly and children most susceptible. By one estimate, it contributes to 380,000 deaths a year, and diagnoses are on the rise. For CDC chief Thomas Frieden, it's personal, notes the Times. He once came home from work to find his infant son near death, but he correctly suspected sepsis, got antibiotics, and his son survived. (The infection was pneumococcus, for which a vaccine has since been developed.) "I’m like the thousands of parents and loved ones who experience this every year," he says. The campaign emphasizes improving prevention through public awareness, vaccinations against pneumonia, proper antibiotics use, and even simple hand-washing. (This teen was sick one day and dead by morning.)