Blood poisoning significantly shortens working careers for 40% of patients

TRONDHEIM, Norway — Blood poisoning is causing countless employees to miss work — sometimes taking years away from their careers. A dire new study reveals that 40 percent of people who have sepsis remain out of work two years after their infection.

Sepsis, a severe immunological response to infection leading to organ failure, is a major global health concern, connected to one in five deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

“Sepsis is a severe immunological overreaction to an infection. It causes the body’s organs to fail,” says Nina Vibeche Skei, a doctoral research fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and a senior anesthesiologist at Levanger Hospital, in a media release. “Many people believe that sepsis only affects the elderly, but a third of those who survive are between the ages of 18 and 60, and this has many consequences.”

Surviving sepsis often leads to years of health problems and diminished quality of life. Many survivors develop new chronic conditions or experience worsening of existing ones. The aftermath of organ failure and intensive care can make even everyday activities challenging, affecting their ability to work.

Scientists delved into the occupational impact of sepsis in Norway. They analyzed data from the Norwegian Patient Registry and the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration, focusing on 36,000 sepsis patients between 18 and 60. Their research aimed to determine how many patients returned to work six months, one year, and two years after hospital discharge.

The findings were alarming. Only about 59 percent returned to work six months post-discharge, slightly increasing to over 67 percent after a year. However, two years later, the figure dropped to just over 63 percent. This means almost 40 percent of those who had sepsis were still out of work after two years.

Closeup of female hand with IV drip infusion in treatment session at hospital
Closeup of female hand with IV drip infusion in treatment session at hospital (© Seventyfour – stock.adobe.com)

The likelihood of returning to work post-sepsis is influenced by several factors. Younger individuals, those with fewer chronic conditions, and less extensive organ failure had better prospects. The data showed a stark contrast in return-to-work rates between different age groups and health conditions. For example, individuals between 50 and 60 were 31 percent less likely to return to work compared to those 18 to 30. Additionally, having a chronic illness or experiencing multiple organ failures significantly reduced the chances of resuming work.

“The main finding of this study is that sepsis greatly reduces the chances of returning to work,” says Skei.

The study also revealed that those requiring intensive care were particularly impacted, with almost a 50-percent reduced chance of returning to work compared to those admitted to a regular ward. This difference is attributed to the severity of sepsis in patients needing intensive care.

Interestingly, individuals who contracted sepsis as a result of COVID-19 were 31 percent more likely to return to work than other sepsis patients. Despite the critical impact of sepsis on workforce participation, the study found no improvement in getting sepsis patients back to work in Norway over the past decade.

“In fact, 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. The reasons for this should be investigated further. We can then implement targeted measures to improve the consequences of sepsis,” says Gustad.

The study is published in the journal Critical Care.

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