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Q&A: The pope's condition

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The Vatican says the pope has suffered cardiocirculatory collapse and septic shock. CNN's Richard Quest spoke Friday to Professor Anthony Costello, head of the Department of Urology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, to determine the seriousness of the conditions. The following is a transcript of the interview:

Q. The urinary tract infection might have been the catalyst for this latest health crisis, but by my reading, it is the septic shock and the cardiocirculatory collapse that might be giving more cause for concern.

A. Certainly Richard I think you are absolutely right. When a man of 84 who has other medical problems, and is what we would describe as somewhat immuno-compromised, has a simple urinary tract infection, the bacteria can go from the urinary tract into the blood stream and when that happens it becomes a much more serious matter. And this is not an uncommon scenario, usually taken care of with antibiotics.

Q. What does septic shock mean?

A. Septic shock means that the bacteria that's gone from the urinary tract into the blood stream is causing organ failure. Heart failure, and often kidney failure ensues from septic shock. The bacterial toxins that the bacteria release cause a paralysis of the function of a number of organ systems including the heart and often kidney so what starts as a simple problem can cascade into this very serious chain of events leading to multi-organ failure -- cardiac, kidney, sometimes liver.

Q. So it's not so much any individual aspect, its the cascading nature.

A. That's correct. It's the cascade. So one system fails followed by another, and doctors end up chasing each event and you have to try different strategies ... It then becomes a chase the tail type of situation. It's not uncommon in elderly men for a urinary infection to be followed by a bacterial infection in the blood stream followed by organ failure like this.

Q. Is the treatment well rehearsed?

A. Absolutely. This is a very common scenario. We see it all the time. In the normal course of events, with normal treatment with antibiotics and cardiac support the outcomes are often very good, so I wouldn't be too sanguine yet.

Q. As laymen read these medical bulletins without any prior knowledge, they can often sound quite cataclysmic.

A. They do, and it maybe the case. But certainly if the case is as you describe it, standard therapy, standard circulatory support and antibiotics can often overcome the problem.

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