World Sepsis Day – Have You Asked, ‘Could it be Sepsis?’

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HSE highlights the importance of knowing the signs and symptoms of Sepsis on World Sepsis Day

  • One in five people who develop sepsis will die but with early recognition and treatment this risk will be reduced
  • Sepsis is a medical emergency. Time matters

 Ahead of World Sepsis Day (13th September), the HSE is urging everyone to be aware of Sepsis, to be familiar with the signs and symptoms, and to ask the question ‘Could it be Sepsis?’

Sepsis can develop from any infection and can affect anyone, but it is more common in the very young, the elderly, people with pre-existing medical conditions or those with a weakened immune system. Sepsis is diffi­cult to diagnose as it can be easily confused with other conditions early on.

Dr Martina Healy, National Clinical Lead, HSE Sepsis Programme said, “The most effective way to reduce death from sepsis is by prevention; good sanitation, personal hygiene, eating healthily, exercising moderately, breastfeeding, avoiding unnecessary antibiotics and vaccinate against vaccine-preventable infections ie. flu vaccine.”

“The next most effective way is early recognition and treatment. This is not simple. Sepsis evolves over time and the pace of its development depends on the patient’s general health status, their genetic response to infection and the characteristics of the infection. Thus, the patient’s characteristics (eg; age, existing medical conditions, medications) represent only one aspect of the pattern. The body’s response and the causing bug also play a part on the clinical course of the illness,” Dr Healy said.

The most commonly reported symptoms of Sepsis include:

Slurred speech, confusion, excessive drowsiness

Excessive sleepiness or drowsiness, confusion

Pain or discomfort in the muscles or joints, passing very little or no urine

Severe breathlessness, a racing heart, shivering, fever, feeling very cold

I feel like I’m going to die”

Skin changes like pale, cold, discoloured skin or a rash that won’t fade when pressed on

In children the signs to look out for include;

  • abnormally cold to the touch
  • looks  mottled , bluish or pale
  • breathing very fast
  • is unusually sleepy and difficult to wake
  • has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • having fits or convulsions

Also in children under 5;

  • not feeding
  • vomiting repeatedly
  • has not had a wet nappy in last 12 hours

This year, the National Ambulance Service is carrying Sepsis awareness messaging on all its vehicles.

Martin Dunne, Director, National Ambulance Service says, “We are delighted to have the National Ambulance Service participate in sharing this important message to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of Sepsis. Everyone should know what to watch out for and ask themselves ‘could this be Sepsis’, it could save a life.”

Personal stories

The HSE has also been joined by families, patients and staff to help raise public awareness of Sepsis and its symptoms.  Participants have kindly shared their personal experience of Sepsis and are committed to helping others to improve public awareness and understanding of this life-threatening infection.

One mother who shared her daughter Molly’s story is Audrey McGahon from Co Clare.  In 2018, Molly, then 12 years old came home from school complaining of a pain in her back, had a very high temperature and was sleepy.

Having been to the GP, Audrey decided to go to the ED as Molly was getting sleepier and experiencing increased pain.  It was only when Molly got to hospital a few hours later that septic shock was diagnosed by a nurse who recognised the symptoms. “She’d gone into renal failure.  All her organs basically were being attacked at the same time.”

Molly was transferred immediately from Limerick to Temple Street Children’s Hospital.  “We were told to prepare ourselves; that she didn’t have long, so every minute, every beep from every machine seemed like a lifetime and that’s how the first 4 to 5 days went.  Molly was intubated for 21 days.”

Molly recovered from Sepsis but lives with life altering challenges.

Audrey says, “Our message to families, parents, children out there, just don’t take any chances. There were no huge warnings so just don’t wait.”

Former Ireland international footballer Stephen Carr lost his mother, a fit and healthy 64 year old, to Sepsis.  “My mam just had the normal flu, wasn’t really shaking it off.”  Over the course of a week, Stephen’s mother deteriorated and by the time she got to hospital she was diagnosed with Sepsis.

“Doctors did everything they could, but it was just too late, she had Sepsis going on.  I think you have to question everything if you’re not getting better.  The question is “Have I got Sepsis now?”