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Oscar-winning actress Patty Duke, star of “The Patty Duke Show” and the Broadway play and film “The Miracle Worker,” died this week of sepsis from a ruptured intestine.

Sepsis is caused by an infection that enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body, causing tissue damage and organ failure. It is usually associated with an illness that compromises the immune system (such diabetes or cancer), or an injury (like a cut or a scrape), but it can also be caused by an infection following a routine surgery or procedure, as in the case of Ms. Duke. Some of my readers may recall a June 2012 blog on this very site in which a 12-year-old boy died from severe septic shock after a minor cut on his arm during basketball practice. In less than 24 hours of what appeared a normal childhood scrape, the boy was running a 104 temperature, vomiting and complaining of leg pain. He became so ill that he could not walk. The doctor diagnosed the boy with the flu and dehydration; he was sent home with Tylenol. Three days later he died.

Forty percent of patients diagnosed with severe sepsis do not survive. In fact, sepsis kills more than 258,000 Americans every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many who survive are left with life-changing challenges, such as missing limbs or organ dysfunction, such as kidney failure. Yet, more people are aware of rare diseases, according to a 2015 survey conducted by the Sepsis Alliance. Of 2,000 participants, only 47 percent of Americans were aware of sepsis, while 86 percent knew about Ebola and 76 percent knew about malaria — two diseases that are much rarer in the United States.

The troubling fact about sepsis is that in its early stages, symptoms aren’t much different from a viral infection that could go away on its own. This is why many people question whether or not they are sick enough to seek help. Unfortunately, delays can result in tragic outcomes – often in a matter of hours. Reducing the harms of sepsis starts with education which includes recognizing the signs.

  • Fever that steadily increases (above 101.3 F)
  • As fever increases, muscle pain and weakness may become present
  • Hypothermia (temperature below 95 F)
  • Heart rate ( over 90 beats per minute)
  • Rapid heart bear (higher than 20 breaths per minute)
  • Altered mental status (confusion/coma)
  • Edema (swelling) and joint pain
  • High blood glucose without diabetes
  • Pale or discolored skin
  • Sleepy or confused

With early recognition and prompt administration of antibiotics and fluids, deaths like Ms. Duke’s can be prevented.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.

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