Sepsis: The symptoms and how to spot it in adults and children - here is everything you need to know

An estimated six million people a year are killed by sepsis, two million of which are children.

Tuesday, 28th January 2020, 9:56 am
Updated Tuesday, 28th January 2020, 9:58 am

Of those who do survive, 40 per cent will have post-sepsis syndrome which leaves them with lasting physical and mental symptoms

Sepsis (also known as blood poisoning) is the immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury. Normally our immune system fights infection – but sometimes, for reasons we don’t yet understand, it attacks our body’s own organs and tissues

Sepsis starts with a viral or bacterial infection, usually of the lungs, abdomen or urinary tract but it can begin in a whole host of other ways including a scratch or a bite

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Blood cells

It is not the bug that causes the potentially life-threatening condition, however, it is the body’s response to the infection

A complex cascade of events is triggered to fight an infection - in sepsis this process becomes uncontrolled, rapidly accelerating and resulting in the failure of vital organs in the body including the kidneys, heart and lungs

If not treated immediately, sepsis can result in organ failure and death. Yet with early diagnosis, it can be treated with antibiotics.


Sepsis can initially look like flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection. There is no one sign and symptoms present differently between adults and children


Seek medical help urgently if you or another adult develop any of these signs:

• Slurred speech or confusion

• Extreme shivering or muscle pain

• Passing no urine (in a day)

• Severe breathlessness

• It feels like you are going to die

• Skin mottled or discoloured


If your child is unwell with either a fever or very low temperature (or has had a fever in the last 24 hours), call 999 and just ask: ‘Could it be sepsis?’

A child may have sepsis if he or she:

• Is breathing very fast

• Has a ‘fit’ or convulsion

• Looks mottled, bluish, or pale

• Has a rash that does not fade when you press it

• Is very lethargic or difficult to wake

• Feels abnormally cold to touch

A child under five may have sepsis if he or she:

• Is not feeding

• Is vomiting repeatedly

• Has not passed urine for 12 hours

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