A flu or a pneumonia vaccine can help prevent you from developing sepsis, a life-threatening infection.
So can a COVID-19 vaccine.
People who are hospitalized with COVID-19 also are at risk for sepsis, which is essentially the body’s reaction to a bacterial or viral infection, such as pneumonia or the flu. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die.
“We used to say get your flu shot and your pneumonia shot to protect yourself against sepsis,” said Shelbie Dearolf, sepsis program coordinator at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital. “Now we can say get your COVID-19 shot, too.”
WellSpan battles sepsis in patients with its nationally recognized Central Alert Team. The team is made up of registered nurses with critical care and emergency medicine experience who continuously monitor patients across eight WellSpan hospitals for signs of sepsis.
As part of its work, the team has been carefully watching COVID-19 patients. About 30 percent of COVID-19 patients at WellSpan hospitals have developed sepsis, according to WellSpan data.
“During the pandemic, the Central Alert Team really became the eyes in the sky, monitoring patients while bedside teams were challenged with managing the influx of patients and maintaining strict infection control precautions,” Dearolf said.
The Central Alert Team normally handles about 90 to 100 alerts per day but that swelled to about 135 alerts a day during the height of the pandemic. In December 2020, the team responded to more than 4,000 sepsis alerts.
An alert happens when WellSpan’s electronic health record system detects symptoms of sepsis in a patient’s vital signs, including temperature and heart rate, and lab results. The team also looks at test results and notes written by a patient’s bedside team.
When the team receives an alert, they determine if they need to directly contact the patient’s physician or nurse, so they can determine if the patient may be septic or clinically unstable, and consider administering life-saving drugs, fluids and other interventions. Timing is critical in identifying and intervening in sepsis.
Angela Mays is one of the nurses on the Central Alert Team, who has spent the past 17 months watching COVID-19 patients as well as other patients in WellSpan hospitals. She said that has become frustrating in recent months.
“Right now, the vast majority of COVID-19 patients in our hospitals are unvaccinated,” she said. “They may have come in with the COVID-19 virus but as their body weakens, they also can develop bacterial infections and end up with full-blown sepsis. And it could have been prevented if they got the vaccine, so they did not get seriously ill with the virus and end up in the hospital.”
WellSpan estimates that the Central Alert Team has saved more than 600 patients since the program began in 2017. The team also led to improvements in other outcomes and care measures, including length of stay, rehospitalizations and total cost of care.
The work of the Central Alert Team received national recognition from the Joint Commission and the National Quality Forum, receiving the prestigious 2019 John M. Eisenberg Patient Safety and Quality Award.
For more information on getting a COVID-19 vaccine, go here.