Racial background affects risk of severe sepsis

High infection rates and increased risk of acute organ dysfunction in black individuals explains why people from this racial background are more likely to have (and die from) severe sepsis than white individuals, according to a new study published in JAMA.

Severe sepsis (when the body has a systemic inflammatory response to infection that can lead to multiple organ failure and death) is well-known to be more frequent in black individuals than white people. However, just why the incidence of severe sepsis is higher in this racial group is unknown and it is particularly important to investigate whether these racial disparities are because of different susceptibilities to infection or organ failure—a critical distinction that could influence treatment. High infection rates can be combated with vaccination programmes in at-risk individuals whilst high incidence rates of organ failure can be improved with better care in hospitals.

In what can only be described as a mammoth retrospective study (that included data from all hospitalisations across seven US states, that is, a potential total number of over 63 million people in the study), Florian B. Mayr and colleagues wanted to examine exactly why black people have a higher incidence of severe sepsis than white people.

The researchers found that of more than 8.6 million hospital admissions (not related to childbirth) in black and white individuals, over 2.2 million of the cases were because of infection and 381,787 of these cases (67,812 black patients; 313,975 white patients) had severe sepsis. They found that black patients had 67% higher hospitalization rates (after standardising for both age and sex) because of severe sepsis than did white patients. Furthermore, black patients also had both increased infection rates, risk of developing organ dysfunction and mortality compared with white patients. Differences in infection-related hospitalisations between the races were especially pronounced in younger adults (20–65 years old).

Findings from this large, retrospective cohort study clearly demonstrate that high severe sepsis rates in black people are because of a “higher likelihood of being hospitalised with infection and a higher risk of developing acute organ dysfunction”. These results have implications for public health; interventions to reduce infection (such as vaccinations) and better quality of care and management of hospitalised patients should be promoted, especially in healthcare providers that serve black communities. Furthermore, more research is needed to investigate risk of severe sepsis in people from other racial groups.

ResearchBlogging.orgMayr, F., Yende, S., Linde-Zwirble, W., Peck-Palmer, O., Barnato, A., Weissfeld, L., & Angus, D. (2010). Infection Rate and Acute Organ Dysfunction Risk as Explanations for Racial Differences in Severe Sepsis JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 303 (24), 2495-2503 DOI: 10.1001/jama.2010.851

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Filed under Infectious Disease, Medicine, Public Health

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