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How to spot the signs of sepsis

Sepsis affects over a quarter of a million people every year, resulting in around 44,000 deaths which is more than breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined. It’s also the biggest direct cause of death in pregnancy in the UK. Yet many people still aren’t aware of it.

Sepsis is a serious complication of infection - when the body’s normal immune response goes into overdrive and starts to cause harm. If it’s not treated early, it can result in disability and even death.

Not every infection will cause sepsis, but there are some that are more likely, such as the infections that cause meningitis or Group B Strep in babies, or urine infections in the elderly.

Signs to look out for include:

For a child

  • If they breathing very fast

  • Has a fit or convulsion

  • Looks mottled, bluish, or pale

  • Has a rash that does not fade when you press it

  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake

  • Feels abnormally cold to touch

In a child under 5

  • Is not feeding

  • Is vomiting repeatedly

  • Hasn't had a wee or wet nappy for 12 hours

In adults, things to look out for include

  • Slurred speech or confusion

  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain

  • Passing no urine (in a day)

  • Severe breathlessness

  • It feels like you're going to die

  • Skin mottled or discoloured

It’s important that sepsis is treated early and properly. This involves giving antibiotics to treat the infection, as well as other treatment to deal with the effects of sepsis on the body, which may even mean intensive care.

Sepsis can’t always be prevented, but there are ways to reduce your chances of picking up the infections that can cause it, such as vaccination.

If you are concerned about someone who has an infection, PLEASE don’t hesitate to contact a health professional and just ask: could it be sepsis?

Sepsis helplines

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