Sepsis is a rare but serious complication of an infection.
Without quick treatment, sepsis can result to multiple organ failure and death.
Sepsis symptoms in children under five
Get medical attention if your child has any of these symptoms:
- looks mottled, bluish or pale
- is very lethargic or difficult to wake
- feels abnormally cold to touch
- is breathing very fast
- has a rash that does not fade when you press it
- has a fit or convulsion
If your child has any of the symptoms below, is getting worse or is sicker than you’d expect (even when their temperature falls), trust your instincts and seek medical advice urgently
- temperature over 38C in babies under three months
- temperature over 39C in babies aged three to six months
- any high temperature in a child that cannot be encouraged to show interest in anything
- low temperature (below 36C – check three times in a 10-minute period)
- finding it much difficult to breathe than normal – looks like hard work
- making “grunting” noises with every breath
- can’t say more than a few words at once (for older children who normally talk)
- breathing that obviously “pauses”
- not had a wee or wet nappy for 12 hours
Eating and drinking
- new baby under one month old with no interest in eating
- not drinking for more than eight hours (when awake)
- bile-stained (green), bloody or black vomit/sick
Activity and body
- the soft spot on a baby’s head is bulging
- eyes look “sunken”
- child cannot be persuaded to show interest in anything
- baby is floppy
- weak, “whining” or continuous crying in a younger child
- older child who’s confused
- not responding or very irritable
- stiff neck, particularly when trying to look up and down
If your child has any of these symptoms, is getting worse or is sicker than you’d expect (even if their temperature falls), trust your instincts and seek medical advice urgently.
What are Sepsis symptoms in older children and adults
Early symptoms of sepsis may include:
- a high temperature (fever) or low body temperature
- chills and shivering
- a fast heartbeat
- fast breathing
In some situations, symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock (when your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level) starts soon after.
These can include:
- feeling dizzy or faint
- a change in mental state – such as confusion or disorientation
- nausea and vomiting
- slurred speech
- severe muscle pain
- severe breathlessness
- less urine production than normal – for example, not urinating or having the urge for a day
- cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin
- loss of consciousness
When to get medical help
Seek urgent medical advice from your caregiver if you’ve recently had an infection or injury and you have possible signs of sepsis, and ask ‘is this sepsis?
If sepsis is alleged, you’ll usually be referred to hospital for further diagnosis and treatment.
Severe sepsis and septic shock are serious medical emergencies. If you think you or someone in your care has one of these conditions get medical assistance as soon as possible
Tests to diagnose sepsis
Sepsis is often diagnosed based on simple measurements like your temperature, heart rate and breathing rate. You may need to get a blood test.
Other tests can help to know the type of infection, where it’s located and which body functions have been affected. These include:
- urine or stool samples
- a wound culture – where a small sample of tissue, skin or fluid is taken from the affected area for testing
- respiratory secretion testing – taking a sample of saliva, phlegm or mucus
- blood pressure tests
- imaging studies – such as an X-ray, ultrasound scan or computerised tomography (CT) scan
Treatments for sepsis
If sepsis is found early and hasn’t affected vital organs yet, it may be possible to treat the infection at home with antibiotics. Most people who have sepsis noticed at this stage make a full recovery.
Almost all people with severe sepsis and septic shock need admission to hospital. Some people may need admission to an intensive care unit (ICU).
Because of problems with vital organs, people with severe sepsis are likely to get very ill and the condition can be fatal.
However, sepsis is treatable if it is identified and treated quickly, and in most cases result to a full recovery with no lasting problems.
Recovering from sepsis
Some people make a full recovery fairly quickly. The amount of time it takes to fully recover from sepsis varies, depending on:
- the severity of the sepsis
- the person’s overall health
- how much time was spent in hospital
- whether treatment was required in an ICU
Some people experience long-term physical and/or psychological problems during their recovery period, such as:
- feeling lethargic or excessively tired
- muscle weakness
- swollen limbs or joint pain
- chest pain or breathlessness
These long-term problems are referred to as post-sepsis syndrome. Not everyone experiences these problems.
Who’s at risk?
Anyone can have sepsis after an injury or minor infection, although some people are more vulnerable.
People most at risk of sepsis include those:
- with a medical condition or getting 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
Sepsis, septicaemia and blood poisoning
Although sepsis is often known as either blood poisoning or septicaemia, these terms refer to the invasion of bacteria into the bloodstream.
Sepsis can affect multiple organs or the entire body, even without blood poisoning or septicaemia.
Sepsis can also be produced by viral or fungal infections, although bacterial infections are by far the most common cause.