Everything you need to know about sepsis: The symptoms and how to spot it in adults and children

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Sepsis affects more than 30m people a year worldwide and kills an estimated six million people, of who nearly two million are children

• 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

• 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.

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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
• For more information, visit: www.sepsistrust.org