Sepsis is a clinical syndrome with systemic effects that can progress to severe sepsis and/or septic shock. The incidence of severe sepsis and septic shock is rising in the United States, and these syndromes are associated with significant morbidity and a mortality rate as high as 25% to 35%.1 In fact, sepsis is one of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., accounting for 2% of hospital admissions but 17% of in-hospital deaths.1
The main principles of effective treatment for severe sepsis and septic shock are timely recognition and early aggressive therapy. Launched in 2002, the Surviving Sepsis Campaign (SSC) was the result of a collaboration of three professional societies. The goal of the SSC collaborative was to reduce mortality from severe sepsis and septic shock by 25%. To that end, the SSC convened representatives from several international societies to develop a set of evidence-based guidelines as a means of guiding clinicians in optimizing management of patients with severe sepsis and septic shock. Since the original publication of the SSC guidelines in 2004, there have been two updates—one in 2008 and one in February 2013.2
Quantitative, protocol-driven initial resuscitation in the first six hours for patients with severe sepsis and septic shock remains a high-level recommendation, but SSC has added normalization of the lactate level as a resuscitation goal. This new suggestion is based on two studies published since the 2008 SCC guidelines that showed noninferiority to previously established goals and absolute mortality benefit.3,4
There is a new focus on screening for sepsis and the use of hospital-based performance-improvement programs, which were not previously addressed in the 2008 SCC guidelines. Patients with suspected infections and who are seriously ill should be screened in order to identify sepsis early during the hospital course. Additionally, it is recommended that hospitals implement performance-improvement measures by which multidisciplinary teams can address treatment of sepsis by improving compliance with the SSC bundles, citing their own data as the model but ultimately leaving this recommendation as ungradable in regards to the quality of available supporting evidence.5
Cultures drawn before antibiotics and early imaging to confirm potential sources are still recommended, but the committee has added the use of one: 3 beta D-glucan and the mannan antigen and anti-mannan antibody assays when considering invasive candidiasis as your infective agent. They do note the known risk of false positive results with these assays and warn that they should be used with caution.
Early, broad-spectrum antibiotic administration within the first hour of presentation was upgraded for severe sepsis and downgraded for septic shock. The decision to initiate double coverage for suspected gram-negative infection is not recommended specifically but can be considered in situations when highly antibiotic resistant pathogens are potentially present. Daily assessment of the appropriate antibiotic regimen remains an important tenet, and the use of low procalcitonin levels as a tool to assist in the decision to discontinue antibiotics has been introduced. Source control is still strongly recommended in the first 12 hours of treatment.
The SSC 2012 guidelines specifically address the rate of fluid administered and the type of fluid that should be used. It is now recommended that a fluid challenge of 30 mL/kg be used for initial resuscitation, but the guidelines leave it up to the clinician to give more fluid if needed. There is a strong push for use of crystalloids rather than colloids during initial resuscitation and thereafter. Disfavor for colloids stemmed from trials showing increased mortality when comparing resuscitation with hydroxyethyl starch versus crystalloid for patients in septic shock.6,7 Albumin, on the other hand, is recommended to resuscitate patients with severe sepsis and septic shock in cases for which large amounts of crystalloid are required.