Five Facts We Should All Know About Sepsis.

  1. Sepsis is the name for blood poisoning, and is a serious complication of an infection. It is not understood why, but it occurs when the immune system overreacts and attacks a person’s organs and tissues.
  2. Sepsis can be treated successfully with antibiotics if spotted early. If you suspect someone has sepsis, you should go to A&E or call 999.
  3. It can affect both children and adults.
    • 250,000 people are affected by sepsis each year in the UK
    • 46,000 people die from sepsis each year in the UK, that is 126 people per day, or 5 people per hour.
  4. Following injury or even a minor infection, anyone can develop sepsis. Some are more vulnerable than others, including those:.
    • with a medical condition or receiving medical treatment that weakens their immune system
    • who are already in hospital with a serious illness
    • who are very young or very old
    • who have just had surgery or who have wounds or injuries as a result of an accident
  5. Symptoms are difficult to spot, and may appear like flu, a chest infection, or a stomach bug. There is no particular one sign to look out for, and symptoms are different between children and adults.

What leads to confusion is that many of the symptoms of sepsis are also associated with meningitis.  

It is important to remember that it is not our job to provide a diagnosis, but recognise that someone has a serious infection or is seriously ill, and get appropriate medical help. When getting help, don’t be afraid to ask the medics ‘could this be sepsis or meningitis?’

Spotting Sepsis in Adults and Older Children – Possible signs, symptoms and clues:

  • Slurred speech.
  • A change in their understanding or awareness such as confusion, disorientation, loss of consciousness, or feeling dizzy or faint.
  • Shivering a lot or have muscle pain.
  • Not urinating as much as usual, for example, not urinating for a day.
  • Changes in their breathing, such as severe breathlessness or fast breathing.
  • They may tell you that they feel extremely unwell, they may even say that it feels like they are ‘going to die’.
  • Skin is mottled or discoloured and maybe cold and clammy.
  • A higher or lower than usual body temperature.
  • They have diarrhoea, or are feeling or being sick.

Spotting Sepsis in Younger Children and Babies – Possible signs, symptoms and clues:

  • They have changes in their breathing, such as it looks harder than usual for them to Breathe, making grunting sounds, or they can’t say more than a few words at once when talking without pausing.
  • Fits or convulsions
  • Skin looks mottled, bluish, pale or they have a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • They are difficult to wake or are very sleepy (lethargic)
  • Their skin feels unusually cold or hot, or they have an unusually higher or lower body temperature
  • Not feeding or are repeatedly being sick (which could be greenish, bloody or black in colour).
  • Not passed urine (gone for a wee or had a wet nappy) for 12 hours
  • In babies, their soft spot may be bulging.
  • Not showing any interest in anything, or may be weak or floppy.
  • Eyes look sunken
  • Stiff neck, especially when trying to look up or down

What to do if you suspect sepsis:

  • Trust your instincts and go straight to your nearest A&E or call 999
  • If you are unsure, start by calling NHS 111 urgently
  • Ask ‘could it be sepsis?’
  • Make sure you tell them about any recent infection or injuries.

For more information about Sepsis, visit:

Acknowledgment to these sources for this article.


SkillBase First Aid Training Courses BlogThe bottom line: Like meningitis, sepsis is difficult to spot due to the wide range of possible symptoms. It is important to remember that it is not our job to provide a diagnosis, but recognise that someone has a serious infection or is seriously ill, and get appropriate medical help. When getting help, don’t be afraid to ask the medics ‘could this be sepsis or meningitis?’


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Richard Craddock

Richard is the Managing Director at SkillBase First Aid

7 Comments

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Shane Clarke · October 23, 2018 at 1:41 pm

Great informative post.

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sarah · September 13, 2019 at 10:38 am

Very informative and easy to understand, something everyone needs to watch.

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Grahame Every · September 13, 2019 at 11:49 am

Heard a lot of ‘noise’ about this recently, really grateful for some well-founded information about it. I feel more confident, and thus useful, now.

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    Richard Craddock · September 16, 2019 at 9:09 am

    Thanks – the links on the article to the Sepsis Trust and NHS page also offer some great information!

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Paula Sherwood · September 13, 2019 at 11:05 pm

Sad when a hospital cannot tell the difference between a stroke and Sepsis

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    Richard Craddock · September 16, 2019 at 9:10 am

    Sounds like a difficult situation. Hopefully the training for Healthcare professionals offered by our friends at the Sepsis Trust can help awareness.

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