U.S. 'Stroke Belt' May Also Be 'Sepsis Belt'

Highest rates of the bacterial blood infection occur in Southeast states, where strokes most common, researcher says

THURSDAY, Aug. 4 (HealthDay News) -- People living in a region of the southeastern United States known as the "Stroke Belt" are known to have significantly higher rates of stroke deaths than the rest of the country. New research reveals these residents are also at greater risk for sepsis, a severe illness in which bacteria overwhelms the bloodstream.

"In 2010, we examined death rates from sepsis across the United States," said Dr. Henry Wang, associate professor and vice chair for research in the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) department of emergency medicine. "Laying it out on a map, we saw that the states with highest sepsis mortality formed a cluster in the Southeast United States, closely mirroring the appearance of the Stroke Belt."

The "Stroke Belt" spans 11 states from Louisiana to Virginia.

Sepsis, which is typically triggered by infections such as meningitis or bacterial pneumonia, can lead to shock, organ failure and death. In the United States, sepsis causes about 200,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations every year, similar to the number of deaths from breast cancer and heart disease, the researchers said in a UAB news release.

Wang said he plans to conduct more research into why living in the southeastern United States is associated with this increased risk for sepsis.

"There are a host of possible causes for this geographic cluster," said Wang. "Possibilities include pre-existing medical conditions, health behaviors, diet, genetics and even the environment and air pollution."

He said he hopes the new research will lead to new ways to prevent sepsis.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health provides more information on sepsis.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: University of Alabama at Birmingham, news release, July 29, 2011

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