If you know much about sepsis, chances are the condition has affected your family.
I’ve blogged about sepsis before, but the condition is still with us and has a high mortality. It kills about 48,000 people a year in the UK. Worldwide, someone dies of sepsis every 3 seconds. Survivors have a high chance of serious long-term effects.
Today being World Sepsis Day, I’m parking the levity once again and using this post to sum up – or update – what you need to know about sepsis.
Understand what it is.
Sepsis is when the body responds to severe infection in such a way that it attacks its own organs and tissues. Without treatment, this quickly leads to organ failure and death.
Most people have heard of blood poisoning (septicaemia) which is much the same thing. But doctors now prefer the term sepsis because there isn’t always blood poisoning in this condition.
Sepsis isn’t exactly a household name – yet. Personally I still think ‘sepsis’ sounds weaker than either septicaemia or blood poisoning, but we’re stuck with the term that scientists agree on.
Know the warning signs.
The symptoms depend on age, but the main point is that there isn’t any one specific sign like, say a swollen jaw with mumps. A child with sepsis can have a high fever, or an abnormally low one. The younger the child, the vaguer the symptoms.
Here are some signs to look out for in children (from the UK Sepsis Trust website):
In under-fives the symptoms can be particularly vague:
And here are some signs to watch out for in adults (again from the excellent UK Sepsis Trust):
If you just remember two things about sepsis, remember this:
You or your youngster will be more unwell than expected.
Things get rapidly worse, especially in children.
Understand who gets it.
Anyone can develop sepsis from a bacterial infection (or sometimes a virus or fungus). But some are more at risk, like the very young, very old, pregnant women, diabetics, and people on long-term steroids.
The initial infection can be a serious one like meningitis, or seemingly trivial, like a horse-fly bite.
Surgery can be linked with sepsis, especially emergency operations on those in poor health, or with peritonitis or bladder infections.
And yes, Covid-19 can sometimes lead to sepsis too.
Know what to do.
Sepsis is a medical emergency and needs urgent hospital care. Don’t waste a single moment.
Sepsis isn’t one disease, but rather a syndrome that cuts across almost every medical speciality. The first doctor you see could be a paediatrician, a gynaecologist, an orthopaedic surgeon, or your GP, and sepsis may not feature at the top of their list. That’s why it’s so important for you to mention it. When you see the doctor or nurse, or speak to 111, make sure you say, “I’m worried about sepsis.”
Thanks for bearing with me. Hope you stay healthy.
The UK Sepsis Trust is a wonderful charity founded to save lives and improve outcomes for survivors of sepsis – by instigating political change, educating healthcare professionals, raising public awareness and providing support for those affected. For their general info on sepsis, click here.