Sepsis is a rare but serious complication of an infection, leading to 44,000 deaths annually. It occurs when the body is overwhelmed by infection, although it can start from something as simple as a cut or a bite.
 
Sepsis can happen after chest or water infections, problems in the abdomen such as burst ulcers or simple skin injuries. If it is not spotted early and treated with antibiotics, it can lead to shock, multiple organ failure and death.
 
Sepsis is often difficult to diagnose and can be mistaken for flu. If you are in doubt trust your instincts and always ask a healthcare professional ‘could it be sepsis?’.

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Sepsis symptoms in children under five

The UK Sepsis Trust urges parents to be vigilant if their child has a fever, an abnormally low temperature or has had a high temperature in the previous 24 hours. Any child under five who is not eating, is vomiting repeatedly, or who has not had a wee or wet nappy for more than 12 hours may have sepsis and help should be sought, it said. Symptoms in children of any age include feeling cold to the touch, having very pale, mottled or blushed skin, having a rash that does not fade, having a fit or convulsing, very fast breathing and being difficult to rouse

Go straight to A&E or call 999 if your child has any of these symptoms:

  • 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
  • has a fit or convulsion

Get medical advice urgently from NHS 111

If your child has any of the symptoms listed below, is getting worse or is sicker than you’d expect (even if their temperature falls), trust your instincts and seek medical advice urgently from NHS 111.

Temperature

  • temperature over 38C in babies under three months
  • temperature over 39C in babies aged three to six months
  • any high temperature in a child who cannot be encouraged to show interest in anything
  • low temperature (below 36C – check three times in a 10-minute period)

Breathing

  • finding it much harder to breathe than normal – looks like hard work
  • making “grunting” noises with every breath
  • can’t say more than a few words at once (for older children who normally talk)
  • breathing that obviously “pauses”

Toilet/nappies

  • not had a wee or wet nappy for 12 hours

Eating and drinking

  • new baby under one month old with no interest in feeding
  • not drinking for more than eight hours (when awake)
  • bile-stained (green), bloody or black vomit/sick

Activity and body

  • soft spot on a baby’s head is bulging
  • eyes look “sunken”
  • child cannot be encouraged to show interest in anything
  • baby is floppy
  • weak, “whining” or continuous crying in a younger child
  • older child who’s confused
  • not responding or very irritable
  • stiff neck, especially when trying to look up and down

If your child has any of these symptoms, is getting worse or is sicker than you’d expect (even if their temperature falls), trust your instincts and seek medical advice urgently from NHS 111. 

Sepsis symptoms in older children and adults

Early symptoms of sepsis may include:

  • a high temperature (fever) or low body temperature
  • chills and shivering
  • a fast heartbeat
  • fast breathing

In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock (when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) develop soon after.

These can include:

  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • a change in mental state – such as confusion or disorientation
  • diarrhoea 
  • nausea and vomiting
  • slurred speech
  • severe muscle pain
  • severe breathlessness
  • less urine production than normal – for example, not urinating for a day
  • cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin
  • loss of consciousness

When to get medical help

Seek medical advice urgently from NHS 111 if you’ve recently had an infection or injury and you have possible early signs of sepsis.

Severe sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies. If you think you or someone in your care has one of these conditions, go straight to A&E or call 999. 

Key links

Could it be Sepsis?
http://www.sepsistrust.org/

Acknowledgements: Press Association / The Guardian / NHS Choices / The UK Sepsis Trust

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