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Preventing infection to save lives

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Preventing infection to save lives

Sepsis—a complication which causes our body’s immune system to go into overdrive in response to an infection—claims more lives than any cancer around the world.

It is more likely to be fatal than heart attacks, strokes or major trauma. It is the final pathway in the vast majority of deaths as a result of infection across the globe.

It is perhaps one of the strongest cases of ‘prevention is better than cure’. However, it is more complicated than that. Sepsis is always caused by infection. So to prevent sepsis, we need to prevent infection. By preventing as many infections as possible, we can reduce the prevalence of sepsis, which claims the lives of millions of people each year, including approximately 3000 Australians, and costs healthcare systems around the world billions of dollars.

There are a number of ways in which infection can be minimised and prevented:

  • practising good hand hygiene
  • adhering to infection control guidelines and standards
  • monitoring infection effectively
  • maintaining a clean clinical environment
  • providing immunisation for vaccine-preventable diseases
  • prescribing antibiotics wisely.

While all of these measures are logical in the prevention and minimisation of infection, I’d like to focus on this last point, just for a moment. The excessive use of antibiotics has led to a drastic increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, meaning antibiotics no longer work in people who need them to treat serious infections (which of course, potentially leads to sepsis).

In fact, a 2014 report by the World Health Organisation into antimicrobial resistance details it is now one of the top three threats to public health, with WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Security, Dr Keiji Fukuda stating:

‘Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics … the implications will be devastating.’

The report focused on antibiotic resistance in seven bacteria—responsible for common and serious diseases—including sepsis. The key findings indicated that resistance to treatment of life threatening infections caused by common bacteria has spread to all regions of the world and that resistance causes both longer periods of illness and increased risk of death.

How do we fight resistance?

As consumers—only using antibiotics as instructed by a healthcare professional.

As healthcare professionals—enhancing infection prevention and control; and managing the prescription of antibiotics effectively.

I believe healthcare professionals also have a responsibility to advocate for the appropriate use of medicines, and to foster research into the development of new medicines and tools to help fight this issue.

Can we prevent all infections? Quite simply, no … not yet (though I have hope that maybe one day we will).  However, we can all work to help minimise infections, and in doing so, help prevent the prevalence of complications such as sepsis.

Dr Clare Morgan, Chief Medical Officer



  1. World Health Organization, ‘WHO’s first global report on antibiotic resistance reveals serious, worldwide threat to public health
  2. Stop Sepsis Save Lives, ‘Sepsis Facts


Posted: 13/09/2016 9:14:33 AM by News @ Mater | with 1 comments

Tags: Dr Clare Morgan, SafeQuest

Tamara Baker
Great article on a very important issue
1/02/2017 6:26:07 PM

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