Sepsis is a bigger killer than heart attacks, lung cancer or breast cancer.
The blood infection is a fast killer too. A person can be a very healthy fit individual one day and be dead the next morning.
“Sepsis does not discriminate. Everyone, including the youngest and fittest of us, is potentially susceptible,” said Prof Steve Kerrigan.
An associate professor in pharmacology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Prof Kerrigan is the inventor of InnovoSep, a potential breakthrough in the fight against sepsis.
Otherwise known as blood poisoning, sepsis is a silent killer because it is unpredictable, rapid and can go undiagnosed due to its non-specific signs and symptoms.
There were more than 15,000 recorded cases of sepsis in Ireland in 2016, and 3,000 resulted in death. Six out of 10 hospital deaths are sepsis-related.
Prof Kerrigan last night addressed a free public lecture at the the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin in a bid to make people aware of the disease.
“Sepsis can kill in 12 hours, and that is why it is so critical that everyone in the community is empowered with the information to ask: ‘could it be sepsis’? These four words could save your life,” he said.
The symptoms of sepsis mimic those of the flu — high temperature, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, pain, pale or mottled skin, and generally feeling very sick.
The main difference between sepsis symptoms and flu is sepsis will come on very quickly whereas flu comes on over days.
“Within possibly six hours you are going to be feeling incredibly sick. If you think the symptoms have come on way too fast when you dial 999, ask could this be sepsis?
“I can guarantee the emergency services will respond very quickly when you ask that question because they know time is against you,” he said.
Prof Kerrigan said there was a window of opportunity where sepsis can be controlled but it is crucial that no time is wasted in getting people to hospital.
There is a 10% increase in mortality for every hour where treatment with antibiotics is delayed.
Prof Kerrigan leads a group that has discovered InnovoSep, a non-antibiotic approach for treating or preventing a severe bloodstream infection.
“This treatment has huge potential but it’s also important for people to be aware that there are simple things we can do to reduce the risk of sepsis occurring,” he said.
“Every cut, scrape or break in the skin can cause infection. All wounds need to be cleaned quickly with clean water. If you have a wound that can’t close, then you most likely need stitches and you should get to a hospital.”
Prof Kerrigan said InnovoSep prevented the bloodstream from spinning out of control and damaging the body’s organs by inhibiting the blood vessels.
Because the treatment prevents damage to the organs it allows patients to recover much quicker.
“We discovered the drug about five years ago, and it is in pre-clinical trials right now. Human trials are expected to start within 18 months to two years,” he said.
Currently, there is no approved specific treatment for sepsis and the clinical management is focused on reducing the infection using aggressive intravenous antibiotic therapy.