Identifying Sepsis Risk in Burn Patients: Interpreting Lab Results

In the realm of nursing, vigilance and a keen eye for interpreting laboratory reports are crucial when caring for burn patients. Burn injuries can predispose individuals to a range of complications, including the potentially life-threatening condition known as sepsis. When reviewing a burned client’s laboratory report, specific indicators can suggest the possibility of sepsis. In this article, we will explore the key laboratory findings that nurses should pay close attention to when assessing sepsis risk in burn patients.

Understanding the Significance of White Blood Cell Count with Differential

White blood cells (WBCs) are integral components of the immune system and play a critical role in defending the body against infections. The white blood cell count with differential provides valuable insights into the types and proportions of different white blood cell types present in the bloodstream. Abnormalities in this count can indicate various underlying health conditions, including infection.

Recognizing Sepsis in Burn Patients

Sepsis is a severe response to infection that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death if not promptly treated. Burn patients are particularly vulnerable to sepsis due to the disruption of the skin’s protective barrier and the risk of contamination during wound care procedures. Early detection of sepsis is essential for initiating timely interventions.

Laboratory Findings Indicating Sepsis Risk

Several laboratory findings in the white blood cell count with differential can indicate the possibility of sepsis in burn patients:

  1. Leukocytosis: An elevated total white blood cell count, known as leukocytosis, is often observed in response to infection, including sepsis. While leukocytosis alone is not specific to sepsis, it can signal an inflammatory response.
  2. Left Shift: In the differential portion of the report, a left shift refers to an increased number of immature white blood cells, particularly neutrophils, in the bloodstream. This shift indicates a heightened immune response to infection and inflammation.
  3. Neutrophilia: An increased absolute neutrophil count, known as neutrophilia, is a common response to bacterial infections, including those that may lead to sepsis.
  4. Bandemia: An elevated percentage of band neutrophils, also known as bandemia, is a notable finding in sepsis. Bands are immature neutrophils released into the bloodstream in response to acute infection.
  5. Elevated C-Reactive Protein (CRP): While not part of the white blood cell count with differential, an elevated CRP level often accompanies sepsis and indicates an inflammatory response. CRP is an acute-phase protein produced by the liver in response to infection or tissue damage.
  6. Increased Procalcitonin: Procalcitonin levels can rise significantly in sepsis. Procalcitonin is a precursor to the hormone calcitonin and is associated with bacterial infections.

The Nurse’s Role in Early Detection

When reviewing a burned client’s laboratory report, the nurse’s role in identifying potential sepsis risk is crucial:

  1. Assess the White Blood Cell Count: Pay close attention to the total white blood cell count and any significant elevations.
  2. Examine the Differential: Look for signs of a left shift, neutrophilia, or bandemia in the differential portion of the report.
  3. Consider Other Inflammatory Markers: In conjunction with the white blood cell count, consider CRP and procalcitonin levels if available in the report.
  4. Monitor the Patient: Clinical signs and symptoms, such as fever, altered mental status, increased heart rate, and respiratory distress, should also be assessed in conjunction with laboratory findings.


In the care of burn patients, early detection of sepsis is critical for prompt intervention and improved outcomes. When reviewing a burned client’s laboratory report, specific findings in the white blood cell count with differential can indicate the possibility of sepsis, including leukocytosis, a left shift, neutrophilia, bandemia, elevated CRP, and increased procalcitonin. Nurses play a vital role in recognizing these indicators, prompting further evaluation, and collaborating with the healthcare team to initiate appropriate interventions. By remaining vigilant and responsive to laboratory findings and clinical signs, nurses can contribute significantly to the early dete


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