Infection control is a major concern in most hospitals across the United States. Because sick and vulnerable patients are put in close quarters with other sick and vulnerable patients, the risk of spreading infection is significant.

One of the worst infection scenarios is sepsis, which can occur when the body is trying to fight off an infection by releasing a flood of chemicals into the bloodstream. If the body produces an out-of-balance response to these chemicals, it can quickly lead to organ damage and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1 million and 3 million Americans develop sepsis each year, most often in the hospital or just after being released from the hospital. Approximately 15 to 30 percent of these patients die because of the disease.

A recent article in the New York Times cites a new study on sepsis, including who it most affects and its level of treatability. According to the study, the most likely patients to develop the condition are the elderly and the young. In certain patients – especially the elderly – sepsis is often unresponsive to treatment, even early treatment. This defies a common perception that all sepsis deaths are preventable, according to one of the study’s authors.

Nonetheless, many deaths are preventable if healthcare providers carefully monitor patients for signs of sepsis and intervene early with antibiotics and high volumes of IV fluids. Symptoms to watch out for include:

If you have a loved one in the hospital, you cannot assume that healthcare providers are watching the patient as closely as they should be. If you suspect sepsis or another problem, please don’t be afraid to speak up. And if you have lost a loved one to a preventable disease or medical mistake, contact an experienced wrongful death attorney to better understand your rights and legal options.