Patty Duke’s Death Puts Sepsis in the Spotlight

What you should know about this difficult to diagnose condition

Who of our boomer generation doesn’t remember the irresistibly wholesome Patty Duke as she portrayed lookalike cousins Patty and Cathy in The Patty Duke Show? Or her performance in The Miracle Worker, for which, at age 16, she became the youngest actor by that date to win an Oscar?

Maybe it is that enduring image of Duke’s youth that makes it especially jarring to hear of her death at age 69 from sepsis.

Sepsis, a reaction to infection that can cause the organs to shut down, “is difficult to predict, diagnose and treat,” according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Who Gets Sepsis?

It is most common in people with weakened immune systems; those with chronic illnesses like diabetes, cancer and kidney or liver disease; the elderly; babies and young children and those with a severe wound or burn.

But it can also happen after a minor scrape or cut, the CDC says.

“Sepsis can rage in response to incidents as seemingly benign as a playground scrape or a nicked cuticle from the beauty parlor,” says the Sepsis Alliance, a charitable organization created to increase awareness of the condition.

According to a statement from her manager, Duke became septic after suffering a ruptured intestine, and died March 29. Other precipitating factors can include pneumonia, influenza, appendicitis, gallbladder or liver infections and urinary tract infections, especially when the patient had a urinary catheter, the Cleveland Clinic says.

Hard to Diagnose

There is no one sign or symptom of sepsis, according to the CDC.

Since sepsis is the result of an infection, symptoms can include common infection signs (diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat, etc.), as well as any of the following spelled out in an acronym:

S—Shivering, fever or very cold

E—Extreme pain or general discomfort (“worst ever”)

P—Pale or discolored skin

S—Sleepy, difficult to rouse, confused

I—”I feel like I might die”

S—Short of breath

Sepsis kills 258,000 Americans each year, the CDC says.

Read more about Patty Duke and sepsis in this article by the Huffington Post.

By Emily Gurnon
Emily Gurnon is the former Senior Content Editor covering health and caregiving for Next Avenue. She previously spent 20 years as a newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area and St. Paul.@EmilyGurnon

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