September is Sepsis Awareness Month, a 30-day campaign by sepsis advocates dedicated to increasing international awareness of one of the most common but least recognised diseases.
World Sepsis Day is held on 13 September each year and involves events and webinars across the world aimed at spreading awareness of a disease that kills more people each year globally than breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined.
What is Sepsis?
Sepsis is a common and potentially life-threatening bacterial infection of the blood that occurs when the body’s immune response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs, resulting in widespread inflammation, swelling and blood clotting.
Sepsis can be caused by a huge range of common bacteria. Although it can be triggered by an infection in any part of the body, the most common infection sites include the stomach, pelvis, urinary tract and lungs.
Sepsis can affect anyone but the very young and old as well as those who are diabetic, pregnant or are recovering from surgery or those whose immune systems are compromised such as people with HIV, leukaemia, or cancer, are particularly vulnerable.
Types of infection commonly associated with sepsis include:
- Gall bladder infections
- Meningitis or encephalitis
- Post-surgery infections
- Skin infections such as cellulitis
- Urinary tract infections
Sometimes it isn’t possible to locate the specific infection and source of sepsis. But if it is not recognised early and treated promptly, sepsis can cause a significant decrease in blood pressure. This can mean blood supply is restricted to vital organs such as the heart, brain and kidneys, all of which can lead to shock, multiple organ failure, severe disability and death.
Every year in the UK, more than 100,000 people are admitted to hospital with sepsis resulting in around 37,000 deaths. It is estimated that more than 12,000 lives a year can be saved if early symptoms such as fever, chills and an increased heart rate, or more severe septic shock symptoms such as, diarrhoea, vomiting, dizziness and an inability to eat or drink, are identified early.
Sepsis is the primary cause of death from infection around the world. Sadly, despite continued advances in modern medicine, campaigners widely believe that not enough is being done to save lives.
It is critical that more people are made aware of the symptoms of sepsis as early diagnosis is key to enabling rapid treatment, improving support for those affected and increasing patients’ chances of survival. This is why campaigns like Sepsis Awareness Month are so important. Sepsis can happen to anyone and it is imperative the government does more to raise awareness levels among both the public and medical professionals, including GPs and paramedics.
According to the UK Sepsis Trust, greater recognition of sepsis in hospitals and the community could prevent thousands of deaths and save the NHS £160 million a year. Unfortunately, the failure to recognise and manage sepsis is a recurring issue in the NHS and often occurs when people are admitted to hospital over the weekend.
Often, pressure from hospitals and ambulance trusts not to transfer and admit patients to hospital means patient symptoms are not always given the weight they deserve and people with life-threatening illnesses such as sepsis are being left at home rather than hospital. Sepsis has been on the medical agenda for a long time now and training is supposed to be improving to make medical professionals more aware of the issue.
Early warning score systems known as MEWS are in place to identify tell-tale changes in temperature, pulse and blood oxygen levels. But in our experience, sometimes these observations are simply never made, leading to obviously devastating consequences for all involved. By improving the care of patients with sepsis, the number of errors made in failing to recognise symptoms and treat the disease in its early stages can hopefully be reduced.
Victoria Gofton is a Clinical Negligence Lawyer at Slater and Gordon in London.
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