"Could it be sepsis?"

People urged to know signs and symptoms
  • Deborah Condon

People are being urged to make themselves familiar with the signs and symptoms of sepsis.

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection that can affect anyone, although it is most common in the very young, older people, those with pre-existing conditions and those with a weakened immune system.

Sepsis can be difficult to diagnose as in its early stages, it can be easily confused with other conditions. One in five people who develop it will die, however this risk can be reduced if it is recognised and treated early.

As a result, the HSE is urging everyone to become familiar with the signs and symptoms and to ask the question 'could it be sepsis?'

According to Dr Martina Healy, national clinical lead of the HSE Sepsis Programme, the most effective way to reduce death from sepsis is by prevention. This can be achieved with good sanitation, personal hygiene, eating healthily, exercising moderately, breastfeeding, avoiding unnecessary antibiotics and vaccinating against vaccine-preventable infections, such as flu.

"The next most effective way is early recognition and treatment. This is not simple. Sepsis evolves over time and the pace of its development depends on the patient's general health status, their genetic response to infection and the characteristics of the infection.

Thus, the patient's characteristics, e.g. age, existing medical conditions, medications, represent only one aspect of the pattern. The body's response and the causing bug also play a part on the clinical course of the illness," Dr Healy explained.

The most commonly reported symptoms of sepsis include slurred speech, confusion, excessive sleepiness, drowsiness, pain or discomfort in the muscles or joints, passing very little or no urine, severe breathlessness, a racing heart, shivering, fever, feeling very cold, skin changes like pale, cold, discoloured skin, or a rash that will not fade when pressed on.

In children, signs to look out for include:
-Abnormally cold to the touch
-Looks mottled , bluish or pale
-Breathing very fast
-Is unusually sleepy and difficult to wake
-Has a rash that does not fade when you press it

In children under the age of five, symptoms can also include not feeding, repeated vomiting and not having a wet nappy in the last 12 hours.

Audrey McGahon's daughter, Molly, was 12 years old when she developed sepsis in 2018. Molly from Co Clare had come home from school complaining about a pain in her back. She had a very high temperature and was sleepy.

Having been to the GP, Audrey decided to go to the Emergency Department In Limerick as Molly was getting sleepier and experiencing increased pain. It was only when Molly got to hospital a few hours later that septic shock was diagnosed by a nurse who recognised the symptoms.

"She'd gone into renal failure. All her organs basically were being attacked at the same time," Ms McGahon recalls.

Molly was transferred to Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin where her family was told to prepare themselves as she "didn't have long".

"Every minute, every beep from every machine seemed like a lifetime and that's how the first four to five days went. Molly was intubated for 21 days," Ms McGahon said.

Molly recovered from sepsis but lives with life altering challenges, including a chronic lung condition, bronchiectasis, and serious damage to her ankles as a result of her growing muscles going into spasm and breaking down. She currently has 16 pins in each leg and her bandages have to be changed every day.

"Our message to families, parents, children out there, is just don't take any chances. There were no huge warnings, so just don't wait," Ms McGahon said.

The HSE is highlighting this issue to coincide with World Sepsis Day (September 13). For more information on the condition, click here.


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