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Ohio Researchers: Insurance Type Determines Risk of Toxic Reaction

May 31, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio - It kills more than 35,000 people across the country each year - more than breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer combined. However, experts say, only one-third of Americans have even heard of it.

Sepsis is a toxic response to infection. One in five people with sepsis die, and it can stem from common ailments such as pneumonia or appendicitis, or develop from infections after surgery.

Researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center have found that adults who are insured by Medicare, Medicaid or both are at a much higher risk of being hospitalized with sepsis, compared to those with private health insurance. With increased awareness, however, hospitals can improve outcomes for this large group of people, according to study author Dr. James O'Brien.

"If we treated this like a medical emergency - with antibiotics, fluids and a team that comes to take care of you - we might drop mortalities from the current level of about 35 percent to down below 10 percent."

Additionally, O'Brien says, insurers can work with health care providers to identify and modify environmental or life-style risk factors that make some people more susceptible to sepsis than others. The study, published in the journal, "Critical Care," also found that patients without insurance are at higher risk of dying of sepsis.

O'Brien, a critical care specialist, says sepsis can quickly become a medical emergency, similar to a heart attack or a stroke. He says it is critical to draw attention to this disease, which kills so many people.

"There are disease management programs to try and prevent people from getting sick from things like heart failure and diabetes, but we really haven't had anything related a great deal to infectious diseases like sepsis. And certainly there isn't as much attention directed toward the inpatient management of sepsis as there is to some other diseases."

Having sepsis adds an average two weeks to a patient's hospital stay, and some people will need additional long-term care. Therefore, O'Brien adds, in addition to saving lives, better treatment of sepsis could save billions of dollars in health care costs every year.

The study is available at

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH