Ten years ago, 12-year-old Rory Staunton dove for a ball in gym class and scraped his arm. He woke up the next day with a 104° F fever, so his parents took him to the pediatrician and eventually the emergency room. It was just the stomach flu, they were told. Three days later, Rory died of sepsis after bacteria from the scrape infiltrated his blood and triggered organ failure.
“How does that happen in a modern society?” his father, Ciaran Staunton, said in a recent interview with Undark.
Each year in the United States, sepsis kills over a quarter million people—more than stroke, diabetes, or lung cancer. One reason for all this carnage is that sepsis isn’t well understood, and if not detected in time, it’s essentially a death sentence. Consequently, much research has focused on catching sepsis early, but the disease’s complexity has plagued existing clinical support systems—electronic tools that use pop-up alerts to improve patient care—with low accuracy and high rates of false alarm.