SEPSIS is the primary cause of death from infection around the world, claiming around 40,000 lives in the UK each year.
That’s more than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined. We’ve got all the information you need on the condition here.
What is sepsis?
The condition is always triggered by an infection.
Typically, when a person suffers a minor cut, the area surrounding the wound will become red, swollen and warm to touch.
This is evidence the body’s immune system has kicked into action, releasing white blood cells to the site of the injury to kill off the bacteria causing the infection.
The white blood cells and platelets form blood clots in the tissues around the cut.
Blood vessels swell to allow more blood to flow, and they become leaky, allowing infection-fighting cells to get out of the blood and into the tissues where they are needed.
This causes inflammation, which appears to us as the red, warm swelling.
When sepsis happens, this system goes into overdrive.
The inflammation that is typically seen just around the minor cut, spreads through the body, affecting healthy tissue and organs.
The immune system – the body’s defence mechanism – overreacts and the result is it attacks the body.
It can lead to organ failure and septic shock, which can prove fatal.
Bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites can all trigger sepsis – though the most dangerous culprit is bacteria.
In developing nations, the condition remains a leading cause of death.
Known by its colloquial name “blood poisoning”, sepsis is also often referred to as a “flesh-eating disease”.
What was the Corrie storyline?
The deadly condition has been highlighted in Coronation Street after character Jack Webster developed sepsis.
The young lad had his foot amputated after the infection left his life hanging in the balance.
The deadly infection took hold after he grazed his knee playing football.
What is septicaemia?
The terms sepsis and septicaemia both refer to a blood infection that’s typically caused by bacteria.
Even though the definitions are closely related, there are some small differences.
Sepsis occurs when your body reacts to a severe infection, whereas septicaemia is the name of the infection itself.
The NHS explains: “Sepsis can affect multiple organs or the entire body, even without blood poisoning or septicaemia.
“Sepsis can also be caused by viral or fungal infections, although bacterial infections are by far the most common cause.”
When is World Sepsis Day?
World Sepsis Day is an annual event raising awareness for the deadly condition.
It is on September 13 and is marked worldwide.
It is an opportunity for people to unite in the fight against sepsis.
Events include sports activities, photo exhibitions, pink picnics, gala events, dinners, public events such as open days in hospitals and healthcare facilities.
You can read more about the day on the World Sepsis Day website.
Which celebrities have had sepsis?
There are a number of famous faces who have battled the condition:
Who is most at risk from sepsis?
Sepsis is a condition that fails to discriminate – it can affect old and young, those who lead healthy lives and those who don’t.
As with many life-threatening illnesses, the most vulnerable are newborns, young children and the elderly, as well as anyone with a weakened immune system.
Though it can affect us all, men are more susceptible than women, black people are more at risk than white, and the very young and very old are more likely to be affected than any other age group.
Those people battling diabetes, Aids, kidney or liver disease are also at greater risk due to their weakened immune systems.
And pregnant women and people who have suffered severe burns or physical injury are more likely to fall victim to the life-threatening condition.
What are the three stages of sepsis?
Sepsis affects the body in three distinct stages.
An infection invades a specific part of the body – pneumonia affects the lungs, for example – triggering the immune system into action.
The germs and toxins produced by the bacteria or virus leave the original site of infection and enter the bloodstream.
This causes the inflammatory response known as SIRS (systemic inflammatory response syndrome).
Individual organs throughout the body become affected and begin to deteriorate.
In severe cases, this can lead to organ failure.
More than one organ stops functioning, and the patient experiences cardio-circulatory failure that leads to a sudden drop in blood pressure.
This is known more commonly as septic shock.
What are the signs of sepsis you should never ignore?
If you, a loved one, or in the case of medical professionals their patient, feels “severely sick”, doesn’t appear to be themselves and shows any of the following symptoms, sepsis should be suspected:
- loss of appetite
- fever and chills
- difficult or rapid breathing
- rapid heart rate
- low blood pressure
- low urine output
If a person is suffering these symptoms and they are thought to have suffered an infection – pneumonia, abdominal infection, urinary infection, or a wound – sepsis is a likely cause.
What treatment is available and can you prevent sepsis?
If you suspect you or a loved one are suffering sepsis it must be treated as a medical emergency.
Think of the reaction you would have to a heart attack, stroke or major car crash – dial 999.
A person’s chances of surviving sepsis are highly dependent on their getting medical intensive care as soon as possible.
The longer it takes to receive medical care the more likely it is a patient will die.
Given it is a condition triggered by an infection, preventing that initial infection can prevent sepsis.
But how can we prevent the many infections out there from infecting us?
Vaccinating children against various illnesses can help protect not only them but also their grandparents.
The youngest and oldest in society are at greatest risk of a strain of bacteria known as pneumococcus bacteria.
This is the vicious strain responsible for triggering pneumonia, middle ear infection and meningitis, and can ultimately lead to sepsis.
Vaccinating babies and young children results in “herd immunity”, preventing infections from taking hold within communities, and spreading rapidly through the population.
Antibiotic use must be restricted
Antibiotic resistance is a growing health concern the world over.
The excessive use of the drugs for decades has led to a sharp increase in the number of bacteria that have mutated and developed the resist the medication.
The implication is that common and typically minor infections could become killers once more.
In order to prevent this from happening, it is vital that antibiotics are only used when absolutely necessary – and that the right type of antibiotic is prescribed to tackle the right infection.
Furthermore, it is important that the drugs are only prescribed for a limited period of time – taking them for prolonged periods of time can increase the risk of resistance building.
Wash those hands
Poor hygiene increases the risk of picking up infections.
And the risk of poor hygiene is more pronounced in areas where resources are lacking.
In these parts of the world, day-to-day things like giving birth and treating wounds, that are taken for granted in more prosperous nations, can prove fatal.
Promotion of good personal hygiene, hand washing and making sure clean water is more widely available have the potential to save millions of lives, by lowering the risk of sepsis.
Parents warned to check their babies for sepsis
One million leaflets are being handed out in casualty departments, GP surgeries and maternity wards.
The leaflets, which will be given to new parents and pregnant women, will tell them to “think sepsis” when symptoms appear.
As well as this, warnings on the illness will be added to the “red book” given to parents of newborns and all doctors and nurses will be trained to look for signs of the silent killer which claims around 44,000 lives a year.
Parents have been told to visit A&E immediately or call 999 if their child looks mottled, bluish or pale, is very lethargic or difficult to wake, feels abnormally cold to touch, is breathing very fast, has a rash that does not fade when you press it or has a fit or convulsion.
What a sepsis rash looks like and the key signs of septicaemia
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Are sepsis deaths on the rise?
According to a leading safety expert, sepsis deaths in hospitals have risen by more than a third.
Professor Sir Brian Jarman of Imperial College London discovered there were 15,722 sepsis-related deaths in hospital or within a month of discharge in the year ending April 2017.
While the researchers blamed hospital staff shortages and overcrowded wards for the increase, NHS England said more critical conditions are now being classified as sepsis than previously.
However, a NHS spokesperson also added that greater efforts would be made to improve sepsis-related diagnosis.
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