Septic Shock Explainer

Experts say pope's chance of surviving septic shock is slim

Medical experts say septic shock -- which the pope is battling -- is very difficult to treat even in strong patients, and requires intensive care. And the experts say the decision not to move Pope John Paul from the Vatican to a hospital could mean that he or his doctors have all but given up the fight.

The 84-year-old pontiff suffered blood poisoning and the collapse of his blood vessels after a urinary tract infection spread to his bloodstream. Vatican officials say the pope is receiving antibiotics and other treatments, but that he had asked to remain at his Vatican apartment and not be taken to the hospital. A professor of cardiac surgery at Bristol University in England says the chances are slim of an elderly person in the pope's condition surviving 24 to 48 hours with septic shock. Doctor Gianni Angelini says, "If he doesn't go to intensive care, the chances of his surviving are nil, unless there is a miracle of some sort."

Septic shock involves both bacteria in the blood and a consequent over-relaxing of the blood vessels. It means the vessels can't sustain blood pressure, making the heart work much harder. If proper circulation isn't restored, organs start to fail because of lack of oxygen.