September 13th is World Sepsis Day, an annual initiative dedicated to raising awareness of sepsis.
Sepsis is the immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury, attacking the body’s own organs and tissues. Sepsis can initially look like flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection, but if it’s not treated immediately, sepsis can result in organ failure and death. Yet with early diagnosis, it can be treated with antibiotics.
Sepsis accounts for at least 11 million deaths worldwide annually. In the UK, five people die from sepsis every hour and 25,000 hospital admissions every year occur in children.
Here, we have an interview with Dr Simon Stockley, Former RCGP Lead for Sepsis and Acute Deterioration, to talk more about sepsis.
`Sepsis is defined as a dysregulated response by the body’s immune system to an infection. What does that really mean? It means that your body reacts abnormally to an infection and goes into overdrive. That response then becomes life-threatening in itself.
`The real worry is that in both adults and children, this can happen very quickly, and you can go from playing football in the morning to being at death’s door in the afternoon.
`You tend to see sepsis in very young children under the age of five, but mostly commonly in older adults over the age of 65.
`And that’s the problem. There isn’t a single sign or symptom that says “This person has got sepsis” and “This person has got a bad infection”. That’s what makes it difficult to spot, but symptoms can include altered consciousness, increased breathlessness, increased heart rate, ultimately falling blood pressure, and eventually circulatory collapse.
`If you spot it early, you can treat it more effectively. You can treat it with antibiotics, you can treat it with fluids. The sooner you can get to recognising that’s what you are dealing with, the sooner you can start to see a recovery and that’s why there’s been such a lot of focus on it over the last few years.
`And not all people are deteriorating because of infection. So you have got to listen to the person, or their parents, and if they’re saying that, actually, this is quite unusual for this person when they unwell. What they’re seeing is not how the person would normally behave when they’re unwell. Either as adults or as children, that is a real call to wake up and pay attention.
`I think that any clinician that sees patients presenting as an emergency are going to come across those who are deteriorating, and deteriorating rapidly. So, yes, it is important for ambulance crews to be alert to the possibility that this could be sepsis and that there is really something significant going on. And if somebody’s working hard at their breathing, you’ve got to think really hard about why you want to leave them at home because there could be something going on`