Science & Research

Just in time

Faster treatment saves thousands of lives every year

BY LIZ KATYNSKI
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012

Septic shock is the leading cause of death in intensive care units in the developed world. But now, thanks to the work of Dr. Anand Kumar, thousands of people every year are surviving this condition, which is caused by a loss of blood pressure due to severe infection.

"We had the magic bullet, but we just needed to use it correctly," says Kumar, an associate professor in the Departments of Medicine, Microbiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Medicine. The "magic bullet" is a reference to antibiotics administered to patients in septic shock. In the normal course of events, patients who go into septic shock are stabilized and then given antibiotics to knock out the infection.

In 2004, Kumar launched a study to determine how long it took for patients in septic shock to receive antibiotics. Physicians told Kumar that it generally took between 60 to 90 minutes to deliver the antibiotics. But upon reviewing the data, Kumar discovered it generally took an average of six hours.

"We examined the impact of the speed of delivery of antimicrobial therapy in the treatment of septic shock," he says. "Dropping the median time from six to three hours increased the odds of survival from 38 per cent to 60 per cent."

As a result, protocols in Winnipeg and around the world are being changed to speed up delivery of antibiotics to patients who experience septic shock. "We are now saving 100 to 150 lives in Winnipeg each year. That's great news," Kumar says, adding that medical students are now taught about the importance of quickly administering antibiotics to patients in septic shock. Studies suggest that reducing the time it takes to deliver antimicrobials in cases of septic shock can save tens of thousands of lives across North America.

Kumar says his research was made possible because of data collected by the Winnipeg Health Region, which was one of the first health jurisdictions to code septic shock under its own designation, starting in 1989. Other regions record it under the condition that led to the infection.

The availability of this information, plus a study of septic shock in the lab during another project, prompted Kumar to look into the effects of delays in providing antibiotics to patients. "It's very cool," says Kumar. "All doctors working in academic medicine want to make a difference. We are very excited to see people who would have died going home to continue their lives."

Wave: November / December 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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