The Data Scientist - the WPC Healthcare Blog

Three Approaches to Reducing the Ravages of Sepsis


Published by: Dr. Todd Gary, PhD

Mohammad Ali recently succumbed to sepsis. Ali was not alone in fighting this deadly condition. More than 1.6 million cases of sepsis in the US each year result in more than 258,000 deaths—an average of one person dying of sepsis every two minutes.

The financial cost of treating sepsis is staggering—at more than $23 billion annually—making it the single most expensive condition treated in US hospitals. Sepsis accounts for 40% of all ICU costs, and the average cost for treatment of ICU patients with sepsis is six times greater than that for nonsepsis ICU patients.

According to the Mayo Clinic website on sepsis, “Many doctors view sepsis as a three-stage syndrome, starting with sepsis and progressing through severe sepsis to septic shock. The goal is to treat sepsis during its early stage, before it becomes more dangerous.”

Sepsis is the body’s runaway immune response to life-threating infection. The triggers of sepsis are not well understood, and the early clinical signs are often seen as a normal immune response, which makes sepsis hard to diagnose. Untreated sepsis progresses so rapidly that the diagnosis is often confirmed only after death. As sepsis progresses, blood supply to vital organs is restricted or shut down, resulting in severe sepsis, and if this condition persists, then the patient enters septic shock—a stage of sepsis for which the mortality rate can be as high as 70%.

Time is a critical factor affecting survivorship with sepsis. Infections that trigger sepsis and ultimately septic shock can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. A key step in early treatment or prevention of sepsis is fast, accurate identification of the pathogen and administration of effective treatment to slow or reverse the spread of the infection and the body’s septic response. Without timely intervention and treatment within the first few hours, the patient survival falls dramatically to zero within 36 hours.

There are three main approaches to lower the number of people experiencing the ravages of sepsis:

  • Early Identification. This includes using a data science approach to identify patients susceptible to sepsis, closer monitoring of these patients, a more accurate means of diagnosing sepsis when other conditions are present, and awareness and prevalence of pathogens.
  • Rapid Treatment. This includes having hospital staff on heightened alert for signs of sepsis, ready to quickly administer appropriate treatment targeted to the infection and providing vital fluids to the patient.
  • Prevention. This includes lowering 30-day readmission, which can be as high as 60%, and increasing the use of effective and consistent hygiene and the use of vaccinations

The ultimate goal of these approaches is to reduce suffering, save lives and lower costs. As the interim director of the Data Science Institute at MTSU and visiting scholar at WPC, I am proud to work with WPC Healthcare on data science approaches designed to reduce the devastation of sepsis through early detection.