The unsung heroes: How laboratories are crucial in early diagnosis of sepsis

Contributing lab leader: Julie Zielinski

In the fast-paced world of healthcare, there are unsung heroes who work tirelessly behind the scenes to unravel the mysteries of illness and provide answers that can save lives. Laboratories play a crucial role in ensuring a timely diagnosis of many diseases, but when it comes to diagnosing the life-threatening condition sepsis: timely diagnosis is even more crucial.1 

Get ready to embark on a journey with me as we explore the invaluable contributions of laboratory professionals, the unsung heroes, who work diligently to combat sepsis and help us provide the best care for patients.

Article highlights:
  • Sepsis is a life threatening condition, often referred to as the "stealthy assassin”.
  • Laboratory professionals are the “guardians of diagnosis,” using their specialized skills and technologies to identify the presence of infection within the body allowing for health care providers to monitor its progression.
  • Sophisticated techniques: the lab is a symphony of science, employing a range of sophisticated techniques to diagnose sepsis accurately.
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The stealthy assassin: Sepsis

Sepsis, often referred to as the "silent killer," is a condition that occurs when the body's response to infection becomes dysregulated, leading to widespread inflammation and organ dysfunction.2 Sepsis can affect anyone, but young children, older people, patients recovering from major surgery, and patients fighting cancer or who are on immunosuppressants are more at risk.2 Globally more than 50% of sepsis cases are in children and hence in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), we often encounter children whose tiny bodies are fighting against this relentless assailant.3

Early detection of sepsis is crucial to prevent its potentially devastating consequences. This is where the lab steps in, armed with their expertise and cutting-edge technologies to help us understand what is going on inside the body.

Laboratories: Guardians of diagnosis

Laboratory professionals are the so to speak “guardians of diagnosis,” using their specialized skills and technologies to identify the presence of infection within the body allowing for health care providers to monitor its progression. When a child arrives at the PICU, their blood samples are whisked away to the lab. Here, a team of dedicated scientists, technicians, and pathologists work meticulously to analyze these samples, scrutinizing every detail and uncovering the hidden clues that help us unravel the sepsis puzzle.

Sophisticated techniques: A symphony of science

The lab is a symphony of science, employing a range of sophisticated techniques to diagnose sepsis accurately. Culturing blood samples allows the identification of specific bacteria or fungi responsible for the infection, while molecular tests, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), detect the presence of microbial DNA. These technologies provide us with valuable insights into the causative agents, and their resistance patterns, and help guide targeted antimicrobial therapy—a vital component in the fight against sepsis.

The power of timely results

In the world of sepsis, time is of the essence. Every minute counts and laboratory professionals need to understand the urgency behind diagnosing sepsis. Their dedication to delivering timely and accurate results is paramount. They work around the clock, knowing that their efforts can be the difference between life and death. As a nurse, I have seen the impact of their swift action. Rapid diagnosis enables us to initiate appropriate treatments promptly, supporting the child's immune system and ultimately working to improve their chances of survival. The faster the medical team receives crucial laboratory markers indicating sepsis, the sooner that individualized treatment to target the specific infection triggering sepsis can begin.

Partners in collaboration

Laboratory professionals are not just behind the scenes; they are essential members of interdisciplinary teams. They collaborate closely with physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers, sharing their expertise and helping us interpret laboratory results efficiently and effectively. Their insights guide our clinical decision-making, enabling us to tailor treatments to each patient's unique needs. It is through this partnership that we can truly provide the best care possible for our little warriors battling sepsis.

Laboratories are not only crucial for diagnosing sepsis but also for driving research and innovation. They continuously strive to enhance diagnostic capabilities, collaborating with researchers in seeking novel biomarkers and developing more rapid and accurate tests. Their tireless pursuit of knowledge propels the field forward, giving us hope for improved diagnostics and treatments, and ultimately, a brighter future for sepsis patients.

Working together in the fight against sepsis

When it comes to the fight against sepsis, laboratories play a pivotal role in supporting timely diagnosis and helping us combat this formidable foe. Their dedication, expertise, and unwavering commitment to delivering timely results empower us to provide the best care for our patients. By partnering with the laboratory, interdisciplinary medical teams, and the nursing staff, the patient is not alone in this battle against sepsis. As one unified team, we armor up against sepsis and rise to the fight.

  1. CDC. (2023). Article available from [Accessed September 2023]

  2. Australian Commision on Safety and Quality in Health Care. (2022). Report available from [Accessed September 2023]

  3. WHO. (2020). Report available from [Accessed September 2023]