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Recognising Sepsis and Toxic Shock Syndrome

It was with great sadness that I read the tragic news of Lucinda Smith, 43, the mother of two and solicitor from Essex who died from sepsis after scratching the back of her hand while gardening.

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Doctors diagnosed a trapped nerve, prescribing anti-depressants and an appointment with a physiotherapist. Three days later she was vomiting and her arm became red and swollen and another GP made the diagnosis of a potential blood clot, referring her to A&E. There a simple blood test gave the diagnosis of sepsis. Tragically, when Ms Smith was moved to a critical care ward, she died of organ failure, caused by the sepsis.

Early diagnoses of sepsis and also toxic shock syndrome (TSS) can make a life-changing difference so it is imperative that everyone is aware of the signs.

Toxic shock syndrome occurs when certain bacteria release toxins into the body. It is caused by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, which can lead to sepsis and septic shock.

One example of where it would have made a difference is Reuben Harvey-Smith, the three-year-old boy who had both his legs amputated, below the knee, and most of his fingers removed after doctors failed to spot the signs of toxic shock syndrome. As a result of this Reuben, his mother and I have been raising awareness of toxic shock syndrome and its effects.

Myths surrounding toxic shock syndrome may potentially delay urgent medical attention that is needed. This is explained further in my previous blog Dispelling the Myths of Toxic Shock Syndrome

Acting quickly and receiving an early diagnosis is essential in effectively treating TSS. To do so, it is important to keep in mind the guidance of the ‘Reuben Bear’ campaign – especially if you have experienced recent cuts or burns or any of the aforementioned causes of TSS.


The Reuben Bear campaign advises people to remember and recognise the signs of TSS with four simple steps:

B for burn – Has the patient suffered recent burns or other injury?

E for Examine – Are there any signs of infection such as a fever, sore throat, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, aching muscles, dizziness or feeling faint?

A for Advice – Toxic shock syndrome and sepsis can be life-threatening so if you suspect someone is suffering from either seek medical advice immediately. 

R for Referral – Ask for a referral to a specialist burns unit if you are concerned about TSS.

For further information on toxic shock syndrome, see our free, printable advice guide here

Tim Deeming is a senior clinical and medical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Cambridge.

For a free consultation about a clinical or medical negligence compensation claim call us 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online and we will call you.

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