Today marks World Sepsis Day, an initiative by the Global Sepsis Alliance that aims to provide global leadership in the fight against sepsis. Over 7000 organisations take part in World Sepsis Day each year to raise awareness of the causes, symptoms, and preventative measures that can help to save millions of lives every year.
What is sepsis?
Sepsis is the body’s potentially fatal response to infection. Every single day, your immune system works to fight any germs that it encounters, including bacteria and parasites. Sometimes, when your immune system is unable to prevent invading germs from entering your body, you can contract an infection. Although the body will try to fight the infection on its own, it may require some help from healthcare professionals and medications such as antibiotics and antivirals. In some cases, for reasons that are still not completely clear to researchers, the body’s immune system stops fighting these germ ‘invaders’ and begins to turn on itself. This is the start of sepsis.
Sepsis can result in severe tissue damage, organ failure, and in some cases, even death. Sepsis follows a unique and extremely time-sensitive clinical course. As sepsis is often treated improperly or too late, it is one of the most common pathways to death from most infectious diseases in the world. This includes viral infections such as SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.
The name sepsis is sometimes used interchangeably with the term ‘blood poisoning,’ but the two are not to be confused. Blood poisoning and sepsis are not the same thing. It is important to remember that, unlike blood poisoning, sepsis is not an infection in and of itself, but a response to infection.
How prevalent is sepsis worldwide?
World Sepsis Day seeks to emphasise that sepsis is a global health crisis. It is estimated that there are around 47 to 50 million cases annually. 40% of these cases affect children under the age of 5. Figures indicate that there are at least 11 million sepsis-related deaths worldwide. This means that sepsis is responsible for one death every 2.8 seconds – more than are killed by cancer! Sepsis now accounts for 1 in 5 deaths around the world.
Up to 50% of people that survive sepsis suffer from long-term physical and psychological effects that may severely impact their day-to-day lives.
Yet, despite being an international medical emergency, sepsis is often underreported, misunderstood, and often diagnosed too late. It is known that, depending on the country and education level, as little as 7% of people are aware of sepsis and its potentially devastating health implications.
What are the most common sources of infection?
Although sepsis can be triggered by an infection in any part of the body, it is most common when the infection originates in the following areas:
- Urinary tract
What are some common symptoms of sepsis?
There is no singular symptom of sepsis. Sepsis can present several symptoms, varying in severity, at any given time. These symptoms include:
• Slurred speech or confusion
• Extreme shivering or muscle pain
• Passing no urine all day
• Severe breathlessness
• Skin mottled or discoloured
Who is at risk of sepsis?
Everyone can get sepsis, no matter how healthy you are or where you live. However, certain people are at an even higher risk than others:
• Children under 1
• People with no spleen
• People with chronic diseases (e.g. lung, liver, and heart)
• People with weakened immune systems (e.g. AIDS)
How can you prevent sepsis?
Sepsis is caused by an infection. Although this infection can originate from fungi or protozoa (e.g. malaria), it is usually the result of bacteria. For this reason, preventing infection is the most important way to prevent sepsis. Key steps that can be taken to prevent infection include:
• Clean water
• Hand hygiene
• Prevent hospital-acquired infections (HAIs)
• Safe childbirth