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Septic patients without obvious signs of infection at baseline are more likely to die in the ICU.

OBJECTIVE: Early identification of sepsis is mandatory. However, clinical presentation is sometimes misleading given the lack of infection signs. The objective of the study was to evaluate the impact on the 28-day mortality of the so-called "vague" presentation of sepsis.

DESIGN: Single centre retrospective observational study.

SETTING: One teaching hospital Intensive Care Unit.

SUBJECTS: All the patients who presented at the Emergency Department (ED) and were thereafter admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with a final diagnosis of sepsis were included in this retrospective observational three-year study. They were classified as having exhibited either "vague" or explicit presentation at the ED according to previously suggested criteria. Baseline characteristics, infection main features and sepsis management were compared. The impact of a vague presentation on 28-day mortality was then evaluated.


MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Among the 348 included patients, 103 (29.6%) had a vague sepsis presentation. Underlying chronic diseases were more likely in those patients [e.g., peripheral arterial occlusive disease: adjusted odd ratio (aOR) = 2.01, (1.08-3.77) 95% confidence interval (CI); p = 0.028], but organ failure was less likely at the ED [SOFA score value: 4.7 (3.2) vs. 5.2 (3.1), p = 0.09]. In contrast, 28-day mortality was higher in the vague presentation group (40.8% vs. 26.9%, p = 0.011), along with longer time-to-diagnosis [18 (31) vs. 4 (11) h, p < 0.001], time-to-antibiotics [20 (32) vs. 7 (12) h, p < 0.001] and time to ICU admission [71 (159) vs. 24 (69) h, p < 0.001]. Whatever, such a vague presentation independently predicted 28-day mortality [aOR = 2.14 (1.24-3.68) 95% CI; p = 0.006].

CONCLUSIONS: Almost one third of septic patient requiring ICU had a vague presentation at the ED. Despite an apparent lower level of severity when initially assessed, those patients had an increased risk of mortality that could not be fully explained by delayed diagnosis and management of sepsis.

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