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What is Sepsis?

You may have heard of sepsis, but would you recognise it in your child?

Often called the ‘silent killer’ because so little is known about it, sepsis can be difficult to diagnose – which may be why in the UK alone an estimated five people die from it every hour ( It can affect people of any age, although higher numbers are usually seen in the older and younger generations.

Sepsis occurs when the body overreacts to an infection - perhaps a chest or urine infection or even an injury, such as a wound from trauma or surgery. Left untreated, sepsis can lead to organ failure and death, but if caught early, it’s highly treatable.

The difficulty with identifying sepsis is that in the early stages it can present very much like flu and other common illnesses. As a paramedic I have seen many cases of sepsis, some of which quickly became life threatening. The good news is, medical professionals have had more training in recent years to help identify the red flags, but we could all benefit from understanding it better.

The Sepsis Trust promotes this useful mnemonic cleverly using the word SEPSIS to recognise concerning signs in adults:

Slurred speech or confusion

Extreme shivering and muscle pain

Passing no urine (in a day)

Severe breathlessness

It feels like you’re going to die

Skin mottled (marbled) or discoloured

Babies and children can be more challenging because they often compensate well in the early stages of illness, before reaching a point where they are overpowered and can deteriorate quickly. An unwell child with fever or low body temperature with perhaps one or more of these other indicators could indicate sepsis: lethargic and difficult to wake, confused and irritable, fast breathing, cold hands and feet, pale, mottled or blue skin, a rash that doesn’t fade when pressed, fits/seizures. Babies will most likely have a history of not feeding well, may vomit regularly and have dry nappies.

Every minute is critical in sepsis so trust your instincts, and if you’re in any doubt, seek medical help immediately.

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