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Sepsis is a rare but serious complication of an infection which, if left untreated can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

Sepsis, which is sometimes referred to as blood poisoning or septicaemia, is a reaction to an infection in which the body attacks its own organs and tissues. It can affect anyone at any age. Sepsis affects 250,000 people every year in the UK and claims at least 44,000 lives. Of these, at least 14,000 of these deaths are preventable.

Sepsis can occur following any infection and there is no one sign of sepsis. The more quickly Sepsis is recognised and treated the better the outcome.

Just ask: could it be Sepsis?

Who’s at risk?

Sepsis affects 250,000 people every year in the UK and claims at least 44,000 lives. Of these, at least 14,000 of these deaths are preventable.

Anyone can develop sepsis after an injury or minor infection, although some people are more vulnerable.

People most at risk of sepsis include those:

  • With a medical condition or receiving medical treatment that weakens their immune system
  • Who are already in hospital with a serious illness
  • Who are very young or very old
  • Who have just had surgery or who have wounds or injuries as a result of an accident

Sepsis symptoms in children under five

If your child has any of the symptoms listed below, is getting worse or is sicker than you’d expect (even if their temperature falls), trust your instincts and seek medical advice urgently from NHS 111.

Temperature

  • Over 38C in babies under three months
  • Over 39C in babies aged three to six months
  • Any high temperature in a child who cannot be encouraged to show interest in anything
  • Low temperature (below 36C – check three times in a 10-minute period)

Breathing

  • Finding it much harder to breathe than normal – looks like hard work
  • Making “grunting” noises with every breath
  • Can’t say more than a few words at once (for older children who normally talk)
  • Breathing that obviously “pauses”

Toilet/nappies

Not had a wee or wet nappy for 12 hours

Eating and drinking

  • New baby under one month old with no interest in feeding
  • Not drinking for more than eight hours (when awake)
  • Bile-stained (green), bloody or black vomit/sick

Activity and body

  • Soft spot on a baby’s head is bulging
  • Eyes look “sunken”
  • Cannot be encouraged to show interest in anything
  • Baby is floppy
  • Weak, “whining” or continuous crying in a younger child
  • Older child who’s confused
  • Not responding or very irritable
  • Stiff neck, especially when trying to look up and down

Go straight to A&E or call 999 if your child has any of the symptoms below:

  • Looks mottled, bluish or pale
  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • Feels abnormally cold to touch
  • Is breathing very fast
  • Has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Has a fit or convulsion

Sepsis symptoms in children aged over 12 years and adults

Early symptoms of sepsis may include:

  • A high temperature (fever) or low body temperature
  • Chills and shivering
  • A fast heartbeat
  • Fast breathing

In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock (when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) develop soon after.
These can include:

  • Feeling dizzy or faint
  • A change in mental state – such as confusion or disorientation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Severe muscle pain
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Less urine production than normal – for example, not urinating for a day
  • Cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin
  • Loss of consciousness

Treatments for sepsis

If sepsis is detected early and hasn’t affected vital organs yet, it may be possible to treat the infection at home with antibiotics. Most people who have sepsis detected at this stage make a full recovery. Almost all people with severe sepsis and septic shock require admission to hospital. Some people may require admission to an intensive care unit (ICU).
Because of problems with vital organs, people with severe sepsis are likely to be very ill and the condition can be fatal. Sepsis is treatable if it is identified and treated quickly, and in most cases leads to a full recovery with no lasting problems.

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