Sepsis kills about 37,000 people per year in the UK alone – a figure around three times that for breast cancer.

Clinicians, medical lawyers and charitable organisations are contributing to Sepsis Awareness Month to draw attention to this serious condition.

If a patient is in a hospital or other clinical setting, there are a number of safeguards that medical staff are supposed to follow to identify and treat sepsis as quickly as possible. Hours and, sometimes, minutes, can make a significant difference to survival and extent of a patient's injury, particularly where urgent surgery is required to remove infected or necrotic tissue or repair bowel leaks following earlier surgery or infection after caesarean section.

As prompt treatment of sepsis is so important to the best outcome, individuals are encouraged to understand the signs of sepsis.

Below is some sepsis information to get you started.

How sepsis affects the body

Sepsis is the body's reaction to infection, usually by bacteria but also viruses, fungus or parasites. In response to the infection, the patient's immune system can react violently, causing widespread inflammation with potentially serious consequences.  The body can go into shut down leading to kidney failure, heart failure and particularly with certain infectious diseases such as meningitis senses, limbs and  brain injury are immediate risks.  

How sepsis kills

If the infection and the body's reaction continue to develop without treatment, a patient can deteriorate into severe sepsis. As the condition worsens, the sufferer can go into serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and, in the later stages, organ failure.

Symptoms of sepsis can include:

  • Rapid heart-rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low blood pressure or low temperature
  • Confusion or drowsiness
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Diarrhoea
  • Low urine output

Early diagnosis is crucial – the chance of surviving sepsis is slashed by more than half if diagnosis is delayed by five hours.

There is a 'Golden Hour' for treatment, during which patients stand the best chance of making a strong recovery.

Sepsis toolkit UK

Clinicians and researchers have devised a number of 'toolkits' for diagnosing sepsis at the earliest possible stage. There is a sepsis toolkit, or sepsis tool, for different medical scenarios; for example, in emergency wards, general wards and ambulances. These include specific ranges for key vital signs and behaviour – for example, in a general ward, a pulse of over 90 beats per minute, a respiratory rate of over 20 breaths per minute, a particularly high or low temperature and white blood cell count should alert a treating clinician to the possibility of an inflammatory response to infection, prompting investigation.

Can sepsis injury be avoided?

Tragically, there will be many instances where sepsis injury could not have been avoided as the point of no return had been passed when first presenting.

However, there are many examples of sepsis injuries, and fatalities, which could and should have been avoided if the proper toolkits and procedures had been followed leading to early diagnosis and prompt treatment.

Where harm resulting from sepsis could have been avoided through appropriate medical treatment, it may be possible to bring a claim for compensation.

As specialists in medical claims, we can instruct the very best sepsis experts in the country, to assess whether clinicians should have diagnosed and treated a medical emergency differently.  Clearly doctors are developing and formalising their response to all kinds of sepsis which has been an issue for centuries.  Their progress is to be applauded on this area.  You can read more about making a claim for sepsis negligence.