Do you know the signs of sepsis?

Around three-quarters of British people don’t know how to spot the early warning signs of sepsis, a serious complication of an infection – also sometimes called blood poisoning – suggests a survey by Manchester law firm JMW Solicitors.

“Following the result of the survey we are concerned about the low numbers of the general public who could correctly spot the early warning signs of sepsis,” says Eddie Jones, head of clinical negligence at JMW.

“The condition can be difficult to spot as the symptoms can be confused for other illnesses such as flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection. Any delay in diagnosis can cause increasingly dangerous and long-lasting effects to the afflicted person, and so it is imperative to raise awareness of sepsis and how to identify the symptoms.”

According to the NHS, sepsis is rare, affecting around 123,000 cases a year in England. But without quick treatment, it can lead to multiple organ failure. The most common cause is a bacterial infection, though viral or fungal infections can also cause sepsis.

Anyone can develop sepsis after an injury or minor infection, though some are more at risk than others. These include the very young or very old, people in hospital with a serious illness, those who’ve just had surgery or who have wounds or injuries as a result of an accident, and people with a medical condition (including those who are having treatments that weaken their immune system).

If sepsis is spotted early and hasn’t yet affected any vital organs, it may be possible to treat it at home with antibiotics. But if the signs aren’t detected early enough, you’ll almost certainly need hospital treatment, possibly in an intensive care unit. Being able to spot the signs is therefore important – here’s what you should look out for:

Older children and adults

Early signs may include a high or low body temperature, chills and shivering, a fast heartbeat and fast breathing. If more severe sepsis or septic shock develop (septic shock is where your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level), the symptoms can include feeling dizzy or faint, confusion or disorientation, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, severe muscle pain, severe breathlessness, lack of urination, cold or clammy skin (skin may also be pale or mottled) and loss of consciousness.

Children under five

According to the NHS you should go straight to A&E or call 999 if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • Mottled, bluish or pale skin
  • Lethargy, difficult to wake
  • Abnormally cold to the touch
  • Fast breathing
  • A rash that doesn’t fade when you press it
  • Fits or convulsions

Meanwhile if they have any of the following symptoms, call NHS 111 for urgent medical advice:

A temperature over 38C in babies under three months and 39C in babies aged three to six months, or a low

  • temperature (below 36C)
  • Breathing difficulties (they may find it much harder to breathe than normal)
  • Not having a wee or a wet nappy for 12 hours
  • No interest in feeding or drinking
  • Sunken looking eyes
  • Not showing an interest in anything
  • Confusion or irritability, not responding
  • Weakness, floppiness (in babies)
  • Continuous crying or whining
  • Stiff neck

For more information about sepsis and the signs to look out for, visit the UK Sepsis Trust website. You can also speak to your local Careway pharmacist if you want to know more about sepsis. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.