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Health Matters - Think sepsis

Health Matters - Think sepsis
15 August 2018

Dr Mike Clark, sepsis lead at NHS Eastern Cheshire CCG and GP with High Street Surgery, Macclesfield

As a GP, I’m keenly aware that early detection of potentially serious conditions is crucial to a speedy and full recovery - no more so than in the case of sepsis. Recently ITV’s Coronation Street and BBC Radio 4 have run sepsis storylines. In Coronation Street, seven-year-old Jack Webster developed sepsis from a graze on his knee while The Archers featured a young mother who cut herself on a rusty nail and died only days later.

Sepsis is a serious complication of an infection that can develop after an injury or minor infection. Early awareness and identification is critical to improve treatment of the underlying infection, and the consequences of the body’s response to infection, to reduce the risk of long-term disability and sometimes even death.

Sepsis is more common than many people think, with 175 cases in Eastern Cheshire alone last year and around 37,000 deaths across England, which is more than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined.

Those at highest risk of falling seriously ill from sepsis include the very young and old, pregnant women, patients in hospitals, those with a weakened immune system and people with serious illnesses. Common conditions that may lead to sepsis are chest, urinary and skin infections. Sepsis can also follow surgical procedures.

The risk can be reduced by living a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced diet and drinking lots of water, especially when the weather is warm.

Sepsis can be much harder to identify than many other health conditions, and can be confused with flu in the early stages.

The following symptoms are an indicator that an adult may have sepsis:

  • Slurred speech or confusion.
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain.
  • Passing no urine (in a day).
  • Severe breathlessness.
  • “I feel like I might die”.
  • Skin mottled or discoloured.

The following symptoms are an indicator that a child may have sepsis:

  • Breathing very fast.
  • Having a "fit" or convulsion.
  • Looking mottled, bluish or pale.
  • Having a rash that won’t go away when a glass is pressed on it.
  • Being very lethargic or difficult to wake.
  • Feeling abnormally cold to touch.

If you are worried about an infection or injury then you can get advice by ringing NHS 111. However, if you, or someone you know, has one of the sepsis symptoms, then go straight to A&E or dial 999 for an ambulance.

We can all play a part in the fight against sepsis by just asking “Could it be sepsis?”

More information can be found on the CATCH children’s health app or from The UK Sepsis Trust website and its free sepsis hotline on 0808 800 0029.