- Know the signs and symptoms of sepsis
Today, (Wednesday, 13th September) marks World Sepsis Day and the HSE is encouraging people to learn about the signs and symptoms of sepsis, as early recognition and treatment is important. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition caused by an infection that affects the organs and kills 1 in 5 people who develop it. Sepsis kills more people each year than heart attacks, stroke or almost any cancer.
The HSE Sepsis Programme has developed information leaflets to help raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of sepsis, which will be available in GP surgeries and community pharmacies.
Anyone with an infection can be at risk of sepsis, even if you are taking antibiotics however, this does not mean every infection will develop in to sepsis. Those most at risk are aged 75 or over, have certain medical conditions such as cancer, COPD, diabetes, chronic kidney or liver disease, have a weak immune system or are very young children. Maternal sepsis is rare but can develop during pregnancy or up to 6 weeks (42 days) after the birth, a miscarriage or an abortion. This is because pregnancy causes changes in your immune system that make you more likely to get infections.
Dr Michael O’Dwyer, Clinical Lead, HSE Sepsis Programme, says, “It’s extremely important to recognise the symptoms of sepsis and to ask ‘could it be sepsis?’. But it’s as important to reduce your risk of developing it in the first place. There are things people can do to reduce their risk of sepsis, such as good personal hygiene, keeping up to date with your vaccinations, taking antibiotics as prescribed, and following medical advice recommended for chronic conditions.”
Joe Hughes and Karen Phoenix from Finglas, Dublin lost their 15-year-old son Seán in January 2018 as a result of sepsis. Seán, or Lil’ Red as he was fondly known, was an up & coming rap artist who wrote and performed all his own material. He performed at The Aviva Stadium, Croke Park and The National Concert Hall.
Seán’s parents say, “We knew absolutely nothing about sepsis before it stole our son's life. Seán was only 15 years old when he passed away. The lack of public awareness of Sepsis led us to setting up Lil’ Red’s Legacy Sepsis Awareness Campaign. Sepsis is a time-critical medical emergency.
“Sepsis does not discriminate against age, gender or race. Sepsis deaths are preventable deaths. Early recognition and rapid treatment are the keys to surviving sepsis. Awareness is paramount.”
Aisling O’ Rourke from Tullamore, Co Offaly lost her father John O’ Rourke to sepsis in November 2020; he was 67.
“To this day I regret not knowing the signs of sepsis. In 2018, my father had a stroke while I was at home. I had grown up seeing the FAST ads about stroke on TV and knew that I had to call 999. However, I was completely unaware of the signs of sepsis, Dad had been in and out of hospital for over two years. At no stage were we told the signs of sepsis. I want every house in Ireland to know what to look out for, I want families to know to call 999 if they suspect sepsis, to ask their doctors ‘could it be sepsis?’
“I will always wonder would dad have suffered less if I had known the signs? I want to use my voice and experience as a media professional to do what I can to prevent other families going through this awful trauma. My father was a passionate public servant and believed in public service, I would like his legacy to be that if anyone suspects sepsis they know to act immediately.”
Signs and symptoms of sepsis in adults (including maternity) are:
S Slurred speech, new confusion, too sick to communicate, drowsiness.
E Extreme shivering, muscle aches, fever.
P Has not passed urine in the last 12 hours and does not feel like passing urine.
S Shortness of breath, lips tinged with blue, feels like your heart is racing, dizzy when you sit or stand.
I I feel like I'm going to die.
S Skin mottled and discoloured, new rash that is still visible when pressed on with a clear glass (glass test).
The signs and symptoms of sepsis in children are:
- Very fast breathing
- Fits or convulsions
- Mottled skin (irregular colour) bluish or pale
- A rash that does not fade when you press it
- Unusually sleepy and difficult to wake
- Unusually cold when you touch them
- Has had no pee for more than 12 hours
If the child is under 5 years, watch in particular if they are not feeding, vomiting repeatedly and/ or are dry when you change them and they have not had a wet nappy for the last 12 hours.
For further information, see www.hse.ie/sepsis and see #Sepsis Awareness and #RecogniseSepsis on HSE social media.
Last updated on: 12 / 09 / 2023