Sepsis strikes up to 750,000 Americans a year, and up to 40 percent of those patients die.
But those cases aren't evenly distributed throughout the country, and the Mid-Atlantic sees a disproportionate number of sepsis deaths, a new University of Pennsylvania study finds.
Researchers at Penn's Perelman School of Medicine have created the first map that shows the geographic distribution of sepsis deaths. Sepsis occurs when chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight an infection trigger inflamation, which can lead to fatal damage to multiple organ systems.
They identified sepsis "hotspots" in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and South where the death rate from infections was significantly higher than the national average and the rate in surrounding counties. Areas in the Southwest and Rocky Mountain states appear to have lower rates.
"We need to be able to pinpoint the geographic distribution of infection-related death rates in order to further study how and why these infections are happening in these areas and the best methods to prevent these deaths," lead study author Dr. David Gaieski said in a statement.
Gaieski told The Atlantic Cities that the cluster of Mid-Atlantic deaths could be influenced by an older population, urban density and people near "medical centers that do lots of transplant care or oncology work."
Other factors that could influence hotspots might include ethnic differences, quality of care and variations in the microbes, he told the site.
Sepsis is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, Penn researchers say, and it is becoming more common.
The rate of hospitalizations for the infection doubled between 2000 and 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Causes behind the increase may include the aging population, drug-resistant bacteria, more Americans with weakened immune systems and a rising number of complicated medical treatments, the Mayo Clinic says.
Any type of infection can lead to sepsis, but it most commonly results from pneumonia, or abdominal, kidney or bloodstream infections.
The study's authors say more research is needed to understand the variations in sepsis death rates. The areas with low rates may offer important information about screening and treatment protocols, the authors say.