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The tragic death of 1 year old William Mead highlights the risks of this potentially fatal condition. As William’s mother, Melissa, has said “hardly anyone knows what it is”. However, recognising sepsis in time for treatment can be life-saving.
Sepsis is when the body’s immune system goes into ‘overdrive’ following an infection, setting off a series of reactions including widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting. This can lead to a significant decrease in blood pressure which can mean that the blood supply to vital organs such the brain, heart and kidneys is reduced.
If not diagnosed and treated quickly, sepsis can eventually lead to multiple organ failure and death.
Each year in the UK it is estimated that more than 100,000 people are admitted to hospital with sepsis and around 37,000 people die as a result of the condition making it the second biggest cause of death after cardio-vascular disease.
It can affect people of any age but most commonly affects the elderly and very young.
Others at risk include those with a medical condition or receiving medical treatment which weakens their immune system, those who are already in hospital with a serious illness or those who have had surgery or who have wounds or injuries as a result of an accident.
Early symptoms of sepsis usually develop quickly and can include high temperature or fever, chills and shivering, an increased heartrate and fast breathing.
In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis (or ‘septic shock’) when blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level – develop soon after. These can include feeling dizzy or feint, confusion or disorientation, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, and pale and mottled skin.
If sepsis is detected early and has not yet affected vital organs it may be possible to treat the infection at home with antibiotics. Most people who have sepsis detected at this stage will make a full recovery.
Some people with severe sepsis and most people with septic shock require admission to an Intensive Care Unit where the body’s organs can be supported while the infection is treated.
However, if identified and treated quickly, sepsis is treatable and in most cases leads to a full recovery with no lasting problems.
If you or your child has recently had an infection or injury and you have possible early signs of sepsis you should contact your GP immediately.
Severe sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies and if you think that you or someone in your care has one of these conditions you should immediately call ‘999’ and request an ambulance.
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