Sepsis and Electric Scooters: Growing Health Concerns

Sepsis and Electric Scooters: Growing Health Concerns

No matter your age, these health hazards can send you to the ER.

Q: I hear that sepsis is an ever-increasing problem in nursing homes. We have just recently put my mom into a care facility. Do we need to be concerned? —Lois D., Lebanon, NH

A: Unfortunately, as antibiotic resistance increases, sepsis is a growing threat. A CDC study looked at data from 409 hospitals and found sepsis was present in 6 percent of all adult hospitalizations from 2009 to 2014. But 80 percent of sepsis infections happen outside of hospitals. According to NBC News, a federal report found that care related to sepsis was the most common reason given for transfers of nursing home residents to hospitals. (Sepsis treatment costs Medicare more than $2 billion annually.)

What is sepsis?
Sepsis is your body’s overactive and toxic response to an infection. Staph infections, as well as infections with E. coli and some types of Streptococcus (often associated with pneumonia and urinary tract infections) are frequent triggers, but even the flu can be the precursor. The elderly, babies under age one and anyone with a chronic illness or a compromised immune system is at risk. In the CDC study, 15 percent of sepsis patients died, but other research shows that among those with severe sepsis, almost one-third of patients don’t survive.

Signs of sepsis
The first signs are usually a high fever, extreme pain, clammy skin, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate and, particularly in the elderly, cognitive decline such as confusion and sleepiness. Get to an emergency room pronto!

Broad-spectrum antibiotics are usually administered immediately, even though sepsis can be caused by a bacterial, viral, fungal or even parasitic infection. IV fluids are also administered to help prevent organ failure. Once blood tests are back, treatment progresses on a case-by-case basis.

Preventing sepsis
The CDC stresses the importance of hand washing, wound care and being up-to-date on all vaccinations. In your mom’s case, Lois, also make sure she does not develop bed sores and the staff practices impeccable hygiene.

Q: I was walking on the sidewalk by the Capital building in Washington, DC, and I almost got killed by one of these new electric scooters that are popping up everywhere. They are a menace to the riders and those around them! This is a public health issue, is it not? —Andy F., Bethesda, MD

A: You bet it is! From San Francisco to San Diego and from Cambridge to Miami (including DC), these electric scooters are popping up as part of ride-share initiatives. And every place they show up, there’s a notable spike in emergency department (ED) visits for treatment of injuries more commonly associated with automobile accidents—broken hands, collar bones and jaws, and concussions. The Washington Post recently interviewed ED docs in seven major US cities—from Austin to Nashville—and all of them reported increased injury rates after these ride-share programs started.

And no matter how dangerous they are, looks like they’re here to stay. According to scooter advocates, these new alternative modes of public transportation are meant to “encourage safer and more sustainable transportation patterns,” and there’s a lot of big money behind them. One scooter start-up company out of Santa Monica just picked up $100 million in funding with plans to expand into 50 new markets before 2019.

What can be done to protect the riders who seem unable to protect themselves? California and Oregon now require helmets for e-scooter riders, while municipalities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Nashville, Cleveland, Cambridge and neighboring Somerville, MA, have ordered one company to get ’em off the streets, since they put electric ride-share scooters on the streets without obtaining the proper permits.

We suggest riders stay in bike lanes, out of flow of traffic and off pedestrian walkways. Helmets and knee and elbow pads are good safety precautions too. As for pedestrians? Lobby for enforcing existing rules with your city councils, and keep your eyes wide open.

Medically reviewed in April 2020.

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