Worldwide move to contain silent killer

A Griffith Health Institute researcher is playing a key role in a transcontinental move to arrest the effects of one of the world’s silent killers, sepsis.

Professor Leanne Aitken (pictured), a researcher with Griffith’s Research Centre for Clinical and Community Practice Innovation believes new recommendations for treatment of patients with severe sepsis can have an instant impact in saving lives in some of the world’s most undeveloped regions.

“Sepsis causes as many deaths as heart attacks but it’s not recognised as a killer disease and that’s the problem,” Professor Aitken, Clinical Chair in Critical Care Nursing at Princess Alexandra Hospital, said.

“In Australia more than 100,000 people are admitted to hospital intensive care units each year and one in five has a sepsis-related illness. Of these, more than 20 per cent don’t survive.”

Professor Aitken was part of an international team of researchers and clinicians set up by the World Federation of Critical Care Nurses to investigate the quality of evidence available and provide effective guidance for nursing care of patients with severe sepsis, septicaemia and septic shock.

The group’s 63 recommendations have been published in the world-renowned Critical Care Medicine journal.

Sepsis is a severe illness where the bloodstream is overwhelmed by bacteria leading that to a drop in blood pressure that results in shock. The body’s major organs, including the kidneys, liver, lungs and central nervous system, stop working properly.

It is an overwhelming type of infection that can develop after an operation from an infected wound or may come from a respiratory infection like pneumonia.

Expert nursing knowledge and skill are required for both the identification of the deteriorating patient as a result of newly-developed sepsis and the ongoing implementation of competent care for patients with severe sepsis.

“Until now the international sepsis guidelines have been silent on nursing care. But the nurses are the health professionals who are treating firsthand the patients with severe shock.”

Professor Aitken has been invited to speak at the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine later this year.

One of her key messages there will be the need for a prompt reaction in the roll-out of recommendations.

“Up to 50 per cent of our recommendations can have an immediate effect worldwide, not least in developing parts of South America and South Africa.

“It’s now up to staff in each workplace to implement these findings at a local level.

“Some strategies don’t require a high level of technology, and are equally applicable in developing and developed countries.”

The investigating team also included Ged Williams, Executive Director of Nursing with the Gold Coast Health Service District, making the project a powerful example of how Griffith University and Queensland Health collaborate effectively.

The Australian College of Critical Care Nursing is part of the World Federation of Critical Care Nurses, an amalgam of 39 country members, representing more than 400,000 nurses across all continents.