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Medical Moment: Brilinta, Tamiflu used to treat sepsis

Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 4:39 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Each year, at least 1.7 million Americans develop sepsis and according to the CDC, 270,000 will die from it.

Sepsis is caused by bacterial infections but it can also be caused by viral infections like COVID-19.

Fever, chills, rapid breathing, increased heart rate, confusion, these are just some of the symptoms of sepsis. Sepsis is a condition characterized by the body’s inflammatory response to an infection. Sepsis is diagnosed where there is evidence of systemic inflammation, in addition to a documented or presumed bloodstream infection.

Systemic illness often occurs when bacteria or fungi invade normally sterile parts of the body.

One example of this is the invasion of bacteria or fungi into the bloodstream, a process that often causes an inflammatory immune response. If sepsis is not treated with antibiotics it can progress to severe sepsis or septic shock and can lead to multiple organ failure and death. Severe sepsis occurs when the body’s response to infection interferes with the functioning of vital organs, such as the heart, kidneys, lungs or liver. (Source)

“Sepsis is one of the most dangerous syndromes known in medicine,” said Victor Nizet, a professor at the UCSD School of Medicine.

In fact, 1 in 3 patients who die in a hospital also have sepsis.

“It is an uncontrolled inflammatory response to a severe bacterial infection that is spreading through your body,” Dr. Nizet said.

Usually treated with antibiotics, there’s no single approved drug specifically targeting sepsis but, researchers at UC San Diego have found two different drugs, already FDA-approved, that may help the patient’s own body fight staph sepsis - not by using antibiotics, but by maintaining a patient’s platelet count.

“Platelets in the blood were able to kill staph better than the white blood cells,” Dr. Nizet continued.

Victor Nizet says his research provides evidence to show that looking for new ideas in which we try to assist in the clearance of infection by boosting the immune system is a very important future idea for medicine.

There are currently a lot of drugs that act to reduce the activity of the immune system, anti-inflammatory medicines. You might take them for asthma or arthritis or multiple sclerosis, but it’s important to remember that the immune system works much like brakes and accelerators that control immune system activity, and if those very same pathways could be pushed in the other way to increase immune cell activity for even a very short period of time when a patient is at the most critical stage of the infection.

Dr. Nizet says that could help them support immunity.

The two repurposed drugs used to maintain platelets are Brilinta, a blood thinner commonly prescribed to prevent heart attack recurrence, and Tamiflu, used to treat the flu.

60 percent of mice treated with both drugs survived 10 days following infection, compared to 20 percent of untreated mice. Now, researchers hope these same results will transfer to people.

“Looking for new ideas in which we try to assist in the clearance of infection by boosting the immune system,” Dr. Nizet said.

It’s one of the most costly of all diseases, recently totaling more than 24 billion dollars in hospital expenses, or 13 percent of total U.S. hospital costs.

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