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Deadly blood infections to be targeted by Essentia Health program

FARGO--Essentia Health is launching an effort aimed at detecting early signs that a patient is developing a life-threatening infection of the bloodstream.

A condition called sepsis, the 10th leading cause of death, can cause multiple organ dysfunction, including kidney and respiratory failure.

Using electronic medical records, Essentia will have a program in place starting July 1 to monitor for early signs of sepsis--checking body temperature, pulse, blood pressure, respiratory rate and white blood cell count, for example--to allow early and aggressive treatment.

"In its early stages, it can be difficult to diagnose and can lead to a patient's rapid deterioration," said Dr. Jeff Lyon, Essentia's patient safety officer.

Unless detected early, he added, the patient could experience organ dysfunction or failure.

Sepsis was identified as the cause of 2,057 deaths in North Dakota and 11,907 deaths in Minnesota from 1999 to 2005, according to a study in the International Journal of Health Geographics.

"We want to treat this similar to a heart attack, stroke, trauma," nurse educator Peggy Ward said of protocols laying out treatment steps for sepsis, including lab tests and administration of fluids and medication. "We're ramping up to do that."

She added: "The faster we can identify a septic patient the better chance of survival."

The sepsis mortality rate for the two states--42.9 deaths per 100,000 in Minnesota, 57.3 in North Dakota--during the period were below the average rate in the U.S., 65.5.

The national hospital mortality rate for septicemia, as sepsis also is called, was more than eight times higher than other stays from 2000 to 2009, according to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Besides the toll in lives, sepsis is expensive to treat. Hospital stays for sepsis accounted for 4 percent of all inpatient costs in 2008, making it the most costly reason for hospitalization that year. Septicemia as the primary diagnosis cost an average of $18,500 to treat in 2009, the cost study found.

Sepsis can be associated with a wide range of diseases or conditions, including urinary tract infections, pneumonia, kidney or congestive heart failure and diabetes.

The new protocol Essentia is introducing decreases the chance of dying from sepsis by 20 percent to 30 percent, according to Essentia.

Patrick Springer

Patrick Springer first joined the reporting staff of The Forum in 1985. He can be reached by calling 701-241-5522. Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author’s name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send to