WHAT is responsible for up to 48,000 deaths in the UK each year, has a 20 per cent mortality rate and affects 25,000 children annually?
The answer: sepsis.
Former delivery boy Dave Cram, 41, knows all too well the devastation it can wreak.
He developed it after straining his crotch while playing football in January 2020, and ended up in the emergency room in agony.
Dave, from Blackpool, said: “An emergency doctor saw me come out of a cubicle, rushed me to a bed, told my wife I was dying and put me in an artificial coma for surgery. I didn’t know I was battling necrotizing fasciitis.”
Dave was resuscitated seven times — and on his 40th birthday, his family had to “make the painful decision to amputate my entire left leg from the hip.”
Sepsis affects 245,000 people a year in the UK – and 80,000, like Dave, suffer from life-changing effects.
dr. Ron Daniels, founder and CEO of the Sepsis Trust (sepsistrust.org) and a consultant in Intensive Care at University Hospitals Birmingham, says: “Research suggests that the number of people being diagnosed is increasing, but actually we are only getting better at spotting of it.
‘Pain is 50 out of ten’
“That said, as we become a population that is living longer, and the older generation has undergone more invasive treatments and antibiotic resistance increases, we may see more people diagnosed.”
Dave woke up from the pain and first went to his local walk-in center where he was given the painkiller co-codamol and then sent home. But that night he couldn’t sleep.
He said, “On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most painful, I felt like I was a 50.”
CHARACTERS TO CHECK AT HOME
IN medicine, we use different clinical scales to rate someone for sepsis.
There are six main things we look at: respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen level, consciousness and temperature. However, you do not have the kit at home. Check these signs instead:
TO BREATHE: How many breaths are taken in one minute? If it is more than 20 or less than nine, it is abnormal.
HEARTBEAT: How many beats per minute? If it is more than 100 or less than 40, it is abnormal.
AWARENESS: Are they alert or do they become sleepy or confused? Drowsiness is a cause for concern.
TEMPERATURE: If their temperature is below 35C or above 38.5C, this is worrying.
COOL/CLAMP EDGES: Cold hands and feet. This is an extra worrisome sign, as it means the body is starting to shut down and divert blood to the internal organs. This, combined with any of the other symptoms above, requires immediate medical attention.
In the ER, he couldn’t urinate for seven hours and felt progressively worse.
He adds: “Tests showed my kidneys were failing and my liver was damaged, and over the next two weeks I had seven surgeries to relieve the pressure of the infection in my leg.
“Eventually I woke up, battered, bruised and with a few broken ribs from cardiac arrest, but I was alive.”
Three months later, he was finally released from the hospital. He says: “I now have a prosthetic leg, but I am far from recovered. What happened to me will affect the rest of my life.
“Every day I wish I hadn’t accepted the co-codamol and gone home. If I had said something, it might have been different.”
What must we do
ALWAYS seek urgent medical advice or go straight to the hospital if you think someone has sepsis.
Not everyone will have typical symptoms. The very old, the very young and people who have problems with their immune systems can develop unusual features that make diagnosis more difficult.
These people are most at risk of developing sepsis, so it’s important to be extra vigilant.
dr. Ron adds: “Sepsis is much more common in adults than in children. But if you’re a parent who suspects sepsis or your child is unwell, trust your instincts.
“You know your child better than anyone with a medical degree, so be prepared to advocate for them, and if you’re not happy, don’t leave your GP or ER.”
ON World Sepsis Day, GP Dr Zoe Watson, founder of Wellgood Wellbeing, reveals everything you need to know about sepsis…
WHAT IS SEPSIS? Sepsis, sometimes called septicemia or blood poisoning, is not a disease in and of itself, but is the body’s response to a serious infection already present in it.
For example, you can get sepsis from pneumonia, an infected insect bite, or a viral infection such as the herpes virus. Infections that lead to sepsis usually start in the lungs, urinary tract, skin, or gastrointestinal tract.
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN? Sepsis happens when an infection you already have sets off a chain reaction in your body, releasing a bunch of inflammatory chemicals to help fight the infection.
This also happens in normal infections, but in sepsis the immune system essentially overreacts and causes too many inflammatory markers to be released.
These chemicals begin to interfere with things like blood clotting and blood pressure, eventually leading to damage to the body’s internal organs.
If left untreated, sepsis can eventually progress to septic shock — the end stage of sepsis — where the body’s organs begin to shut down. Without prompt treatment, sepsis can quickly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
But if caught early and the person is started on the right treatment (which varies depending on the type of organism causing the infection causing the sepsis), they can make a good recovery.
CAREFULLY, the symptoms of sepsis can often be very vague. It can just feel like a bad flu.
You may experience: Lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, chills, muscle aches.
All of these symptoms are common in many viral illnesses, so it’s vital to seek objective evidence of sepsis with a physical exam and a good, clear history indicating the timeline of the illness.
Is there evidence of infection in the days leading up to the development of these symptoms? A cut on the hand that looks angry and red?
Increased pain and frequency when urinating, which could indicate a urinary tract infection?
Bad Cough And Pain When Breathing, Which Could Be Pneumonia?
An infection that has already been given antibiotics, but you still feel very unwell? All of these situations should cause your “sepsis radar” to ping and you should seek further medical assessment.