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Most Americans Unfamiliar With Sepsis, Survey Finds

The bacterial infection can lead to organ failure, death

THURSDAY, Sept. 30, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- The majority of Americans don't know what the life-threatening immune response condition known as sepsis (or septic shock) is, according to a new survey.

The survey results touch upon a serious illness that strikes a half million Americans each year and kills more than 200,000, but remains something of an enigma to the general public.

"The lack of awareness and understanding is one of the major challenges we face in healthcare today," Dr. Kevin J. Tracey, president of the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York, said in a news release from the health system. "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."

The survey was conducted for the Feinstein Institute.

The survey findings concern an illness that is basically the result of an immune system going into overdrive in reaction to a bacterial infection, sometimes leading to organ failure.

Among the survey's other findings:

  • despite being particularly vulnerable, nearly 70 percent of adults 65 and older do not know what sepsis is;
  • the condition is least familiar to residents of the southern states;
  • more men than women (63 percent versus 55 percent) are unfamiliar with sepsis, even though men have a higher mortality rate when affected;
  • blacks are less familiar with the condition than whites and Hispanics (67 percent versus 58 percent), despite a higher incidence among blacks.

The survey of 1,000 adults also found that college graduates have a greater understanding of sepsis than those who have no more than a high school education (50 percent versus 24 percent).

More information

For more on sepsis, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCE: Sept. 29, 2010, news release, Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, part of North Shore-LIJ Health System, New York
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