Sepsis - blood poisoning - is a severe immunological overreaction to an infection, and hospitals can often be a cause rather than a solution. A guess by the World Health Organisation is that up to 20 percent of deaths worldwide have sepsis as a factor. A new analysis finds that up to 40 percent of people who don't die still can't return to work after two weeks.

A new analyis retrieved figures from the Norwegian Patient Registry and from the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration’s information on absence due to illness. The figures included 36,000 sepsis patients aged 18 to 60. The researchers looked at whether they had returned to work six months, one year and two years after they had been discharged from hospital.

After six months, less than 59 percent of the patients had returned to work. After one year, just over 67 percent were back at work. However, after two years, the number was down to just over 63 percent.

That's gotten worse, not better. In their figures, the percentage of people who were in work two years after discharge from a hospital ward fell from 70 percent in 2016 to 57 percent in 2019. 

Like most issues, from flu to COVID-19, the best outcomes were were young people with few additional chronic diagnoses and less extensive organ failure. Those 18 to 30 were 31 percent more likely to return to work than 50- to 60-year-olds while those with a chronic illness were 54 percent less likely to return to work than those without.

Those who contracted sepsis after hospitalization for COVID-19 were 31 percent more likely to return to work than the rest of the patients with sepsis, so that was good news, but people who had two organs that failed were 40 percent less likely to return to work than those who suffered only one organ failure. Intensive care was predictably the worst case, because that meant severe sepsis. Only 52 percent of those admitted to an intensive care unit were back at work 2 years after discharge.

In 2024, let's hope some real progress can be made in helping patients with sepsis return to normal lives - primarily by not getting sepsis at all.