Burn Sepsis

Burn sepsis is one of the most common fatal burn injury complications. Despite medical advancements, burn sepsis accounts for 50-to-60 percent of burn injury deaths. Burn sepsis occurs after a burn injury patient develops an infection. Burn sepsis may develop after an infection of the burn wound itself. The condition may also develop as a result of other types of infection that occur during the treatment process, such as pneumonia from breathing tubes or urinary tract infection from bladder catheters.

What Is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a complication of severe infection. When the body is infected, it releases natural chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals are designed to fight off the infection. Sepsis develops when the body has an inflammatory response to its own infection-fighting chemicals. A number of medical professionals consider sepsis a three-stage condition. The initial state develops into severe sepsis, which may then develop into septic shock.

Burn Sepsis Symptoms

Burn sepsis patients are typically diagnosed after exhibiting two or more of the following symptoms:

  • Body temperature above 101.3 degrees or below 95 degrees
  • Breathing rate of more than 20 breaths per minute
  • Heart rate greater than 90 beats per minute
  • Suspected or confirmed bodily infection

Septic Shock

Is sepsis is left untreated, the patient may go into septic shock. Septic shock is characterized by a dramatic drop in blood pressure. This can lead to organ failure and death. Septic shock patients typically also experience symptoms such as difficulty breathing, abnormal heart function, abdominal pain, and confusion or disorientation.

Burn Sepsis Treatment

Burn sepsis survival rates are highest in patients with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment. Severe burn sepsis requires careful monitoring in the intensive care unit of a medical facility. Many patients require stabilization of heart function and breathing. Burn sepsis patients may receive supportive therapies such as oxygen and plenty of intravenous (IV) fluids.

Burn Sepsis Antibiotics

When burn sepsis is diagnosed, patients may be immediately placed on intravenous (IV) antibiotics. In some cases, broad-spectrum antibiotics may be administered when the specific infection is unknown. Broad-spectrum antibiotics effectively treat several types of bacteria. After blood test results return and reveal the source of the patient’s infection, the patient may be switched to a more specialized type of antibiotic depending on the infection.


Other burn sepsis medications may include vasopressors. Vasopressors help to raise the patient’s blood pressure by constricting the blood vessels. The patient may be given corticosteroids. Insulin may be administered to help stabilize blood sugar levels. Certain drugs may be administered to modify the body’s immune system responses. Painkillers and sedatives may be administered if the patient experiences severe pain or anxiety.




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Still, J M, et al. “Central Line-Related Sepsis in Acute Burn Patients.” The American Surgeon 64.2 (1998): 165-170. MEDLINE with Full Text. Web. 23 Dec. 2014.

“Study Suggests Modifications in ABA’s Burn-Specific Sepsis Criteria.” AACN Bold Voices 4.10 (2012): 12. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 23 Dec. 2014.