WAHIAWA, Hawaii - Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that happens when the body's attempt to fight an infection goes wrong. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one out of every three people who die in a hospital has sepsis.

Sepsis is growing public health issue, according to medical groups like the CDC, and medical professionals, like Dr. Thomas Forney, Chief of Staff at Wahiawa General Hospital. "Anytime someone has an infection, our body produces chemicals and an inflammatory reaction to fight that infection. Sometimes that inflammatory reaction is so robust it causes some of our organs to fail."

Dr. Forney says it frequently causes severe disease or death. "This is important for the elderly, because as we age our immune system gets weaker and we're more prone to infections."

It's hard to diagnose! In general, doctors look for "any sort of behavioral or mental changes, faster respiratory rate or breathing quickly, and low blood pressure," describes Dr. Forney.

But not everyone has those symptoms. Sometimes, an elderly patient's only clue is confusion. "The main presenting symptoms for elderly is confusion," says Dr. Forney. "They'll come in with confusion, but normal vital signs and no fever,"

Dr. Forney says Wahiawa General excels at sepsis treatment. "Sepsis is important, especially in Wahiawa because we have a significant elderly population."

But across the state, he says there's a push to get this health problem top of mind. "There's been an increased effort by state of Hawaii over past few years to tackle early identification and treatment of sepsis," he says.

Time is of the essence. Dr. Forney advises, if you don't feel right but you're not sure what it is, get to a hospital right away. "The sooner its identified and diagnosed, the sooner we can treat it."