Hospital-acquired sepsis cases jumped nearly 50% in California amid pandemic

In the first year of the pandemic, another problem quietly grew: hospital-acquired sepsis. Across California hospitals, the number of patients who developed sepsis while in the hospital increased by 46 percent between 2019 and 2021, according to a Feb. 5 report from the Los Angeles Times.

Data from the California Department of Healthcare Access and Information cited by the news outlet shows there were 30,495 cases of hospital-acquired sepsis statewide in 2021, up nearly 50 percent from 2019. 

"Sepsis is a leading cause of death in hospitals. It's been true for a long time — and it's become even more true during the pandemic," Kedar Mate, MD, president and chief executive of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, told the news outlet, adding that nationwide, the condition kills more people annually than breast cancer, HIV and AIDS, and opioid overdoses combined. 

Across the U.S., healthcare-associated infections increased significantly in 2020 after years of steady decline. The increase was fueled by various pandemic-related challenges, such as staffing shortages and high patient caseloads, which impeded hospitals' ability to maintain standard infection prevention and control practices. CDC data published in November suggests this trend continued in 2021, with four of six regularly tracked HAIs increasing by a range of 5 percent to 14 percent. 

COVID-19 infection itself also elevates the risk of sepsis, especially among older adults who are hospitalized. In California, nearly 40 percent of severe sepsis patients who died at hospitals in 2021 had COVID-19, according to state data cited by the Los Angeles Times. 

Sepsis is infamously known for being difficult to detect in its early stages, when treatment is most effective. Hospitals are trying different efforts to ensure the condition is spotted as early as possible, including technology that uses EMR data to alert providers when a patient shows markers of deterioration. 

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