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Mother checking her son's temperature, she knows the signs of sepsis

What is sepsis and what are the symptoms?

Learn how to spot the signs...

Sepsis is a serious condition. Knowing how to spot it and how to respond to symptoms could save a life.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis – also known as blood poisoning – is a condition that can develop when an immune system’s response to an injury or infection is excessive and can lead to tissue and organ damage. Sepsis can be triggered by an untreated infection in the body and can be deadly. It kills five people an hour in the UK.

How can sepsis be treated?

If caught in time, antibiotics can treat sepsis and a full recovery can be made. However severe sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies and require rapid hospital treatment.

What are the signs of sepsis?

Early symptoms in older children or adults can be similar to those of flu: extremely high or low body temperature, chills, breathlessness or fast breathing, and muscle pain.

When should I act?

The UK Sepsis Trust advises that you should seek urgent medical help if you or another adult develops these signs:

Slurred speech or confusion

Extreme shivering or muscle pain

Passing no urine (in a day)

Severe breathlessness

It feels like you’re going to die

Skin mottled or discoloured

What about sepsis in children?

In children under five, call 999 or go to A&E if a child has any of these sepsis symptoms:

  • Is breathing fast

  • Has a fit or convulsion

  • Has mottled, bluish or pale skin

  • Has a rash which, as with meningitis, does not fade when you press it

  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake

  • Feels very cold to the touch

And sepsis in babies?

In children under five, additional symptoms may include vomiting, no interest in feeding (or any interest in anything), lack of urine, breathlessness or grunting with each breath, and general limpness.

What about high temperatures?

The NHS advises you to call 111 immediately if your infant has:

  • A high temperature and isn’t showing an interest in anything

  • A low temperature (below 36°C – when checked three times in a 10-minute period)

  • A temperature of over 38°C in babies under three months

  • A temperature of over 39°C in babies aged three to six months

In newborn babies, the soft spot on the baby’s head may bulge, or he or she may not respond or want to drink. S/he may be floppy or very irritable. Another symptom might be green, black or bloody vomit.

Who is the most susceptible to sepsis?

Although anyone can develop sepsis, some are more vulnerable than others. Children, pregnant women, and the elderly are more at risk than other age groups, and those with weaker immune systems are also susceptible. People with wounds or who have recently had surgery are vulnerable due to the increased risk of infection, as are those with chronic illness.

How can sepsis be avoided?

Sepsis can be prevented in two key ways: avoiding infection, and stopping an infection from progressing into sepsis. Vaccinations and excellent hygiene are important safeguards against infection, as are good food hygiene practices.

What do you need to do if you suspect you (or another) has sepsis?

If you believe that you or someone else has sepsis, act quickly. If exhibiting some of the more serious symptoms, call 999 immediately. If you’re concerned about an infection, contact 111 or your GP to evaluate your symptoms.

This is an overview of the condition. Trust your instincts and act quickly if you, a child or someone else is displaying signs of sepsis.

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