LAKE SUCCESS, NY – For Jackie Wang, it was just a garden-variety infection that was slowing her down. But her doctor realized that the 29-year-old Manhasset, NY woman was sick enough to go to the emergency room. By the time she got to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, her body’s immune system had waged a full-scale attack on her lungs and threatened other organs – and her life.
Ms. Wang is among the half-million Americans every year who develop sepsis or septic shock, a life-threatening immune response that claims more than 200,000 lives annually in the US. Jackie Wang is one of the lucky ones. She survived.
When she awoke from a 10-day induced coma that was necessary to save her life and was told that she had sepsis, the young woman looked puzzled: “What’s sepsis?” she asked. She is not alone. More than 60 percent of adults do not know what sepsis is, according to a new survey sponsored by The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research , part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System.
The survey of 1,000 adults throughout the United States found that:
- 69 percent of seniors, aged 65 and older, are not familiar with the term “sepsis.” Studies show that seniors are at a higher risk of developing sepsis, often because they have chronic diseases that weaken their immune system and make them more susceptible to it.
- Familiarity varied by region. Adults from the southern states are least familiar with the term “sepsis,” despite the fact that a recently-published study shows the highest mortality rates are also in southern states1.
- 63 percent of men versus 55 percent of women are not familiar with sepsis. Published research shows that men have a higher mortality rate than women.
- 67 percent of African-Americans versus 58 percent of Caucasians and 57 percent of Hispanics were not familiar with sepsis. Research has shown that African-Americans have higher incidence rates of sepsis than the population as a whole and that African-American men have the highest mortality rates
- Only 50 percent of college graduates were familiar with sepsis versus 24 percent of those with a high school diploma or less.
The Feinstein Institute released the survey results on the heels of the Merinoff Symposium, a two-day international conference that brought together more than 150 scientists, physicians and other sepsis experts from 18 countries. The conference is being held this Thursday and Friday, September 30 and October 1, at the Feinstein Institute in Manhasset, NY, which is recognized as a leader in sepsis research, receiving more than $20 million a year in sepsis-related research grants.
“The lack of awareness and understanding is one of the major challenges we face in healthcare today,” said Kevin J. Tracey, MD , president of the Feinstein Institute and a pioneer in sepsis research. “One in four hospital deaths are caused by sepsis, yet the majority of Americans have never even heard of the condition. Sepsis is a mystery to most Americans.”
At a news conference today, Ms. Wang joined the pulmonologist who helped diagnose and treat her, Mark Rosen, MD, and others interested in raising public awareness of sepsis at the North Shore-LIJ’s Health System’s Patient Safety Institute in Lake Success, where her case was replicated during a simulation session conducted by PSI staff, underscoring the complexities of sepsis and the challenges facing physicians and nurses who are faced with identifying potential symptoms of sepsis and making an accurate and speedy diagnosis.
“I was very surprised when they told me I had sepsis. I never even heard of it,” she said. Ms. Wang is sharing her story so that the public gains an understanding of the condition. “This could happen to anyone.”
Also participating in today’s news conference was Carl Flatley, DDS, the founder and chairman of Sepsis Alliance, an organization focused on the early detection and effective management of sepsis. A Florida dentist, Dr. Flately founded the group after his healthy 23-year-old daughter Erin entered a hospital for elective surgery in 2002 and died of sepsis five days later. He later became a sepsis victim himself.
To combat sepsis in North Shore-LIJ’s 15 hospitals throughout the New York area, Dr. Tracey has teamed with Kenneth Abrams, MD, the health system’s senior vice president of clinical operations, who has initiated a program that trains caregivers to look for early indicators of sepsis among patients, and at the first sign of trouble, treat them early and aggressively.
About The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research
Headquartered in Manhasset, NY, The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research is home to international scientific leaders in cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, psychiatric disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sepsis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, human genetics, neuroimmunology, and medicinal chemistry. Feinstein researchers are developing new drugs and drug targets, and producing results where science meets the patient, annually enrolling some 10,000 subjects into clinical research programs.