Raising awareness of Sepsis

Sara Morgan, Sepsis feature

September 13th is World Sepsis Day. USW Nursing lecturer Sara Morgan, an Advanced Nurse Practitioner, has both a personal and professional interest in raising awareness of the illness.

"You may have heard about Sepsis in the media. The British soap opera Coronation Street also recently run a storyline on Sepsis.

"Having worked clinically within Emergency Care for over 16 years I have sadly nursed many patients presenting with signs of Sepsis. 

"When I started working in the University, I started to build links with the UK Sepsis Trust and last year, I ran the Manchester Marathon for UK Sepsis in memory of a relative who died of sepsis.

What is Sepsis?

"Sepsis is a rare but serious illness that requires prompt identification and management within health care. The key to Sepsis management is early detection and treatment.

"Sepsis claims around six million lives worldwide each year and the UK sepsis trust estimate that there are 250,000 episodes of sepsis in the UK yearly attributing to 44,000 deaths in the UK.

"Essentially Sepsis or blood poisoning is the body’s abnormal immune response to an infection, which can lead to organ failure if not treated promptly. Normally our immune system fights infection – but sometimes, for reasons that are not fully understood, the infection attacks our body’s own organs and tissues. If not treated immediately, Sepsis can result in organ failure and death.

"Patients can present with a myriad of symptoms ranging from chest or a urinary tract infection to flu-like symptoms or gastroenteritis.

The World Health Organisation suggests that Sepsis in most cases, is triggered by an infection which can occur in any part of the human body. This condition is initiated by agents such as viruses, fungi and parasites; however, the most common trigger of this potentially life-threatening condition is bacteria.

How to spot signs of Sepsis

The UK Sepsis Trust devised the Sepsis guidelines for early identification of potentially Septic patients in the community and advise prompt medical assessment if someone presents with any of the following symptoms:

  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine (in a day)
  • Severe breathlessness
  • It feels like you’re going to die
  • Skin mottled or discoloured

Similarly, with children the UK Sepsis Trust recommends prompt medical assessment if your child is unwell with either a fever or very low temperature. 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

For children under the age of five further medical assessment is advised if they are not feeding; vomiting repeatedly and have not passed urine for 12 hours.

"Within hospital settings there are track and trigger systems in place to identify deteriorating patients. These are designed to be used at the patient’s bedside to quickly identify a potentially Septic patient and deliver the initial management and treatment.

"In most cases of uncomplicated Sepsis, hospital treatment is not required and patients can be managed at home with appropriate antibiotic therapy and close monitoring from their general practitioner. However, in more severe cases patients will require hospital admission and prompt treatment.

Educating students about Sepsis

"Earlier this year, I arranged for several Sepsis survivors to come in and speak to a cohort of our nursing students and give their experiences of surviving and living with the after-effects of Sepsis.

Many patients who survive Sepsis have ongoing complications of chronic fatigue, PTSD symptoms and recovery can, in some cases, take many months.

"I feel that it's very important for nursing students to hear these first-person stories. From these, they are able to gain an honest understanding of the healthcare experience.

"The survivors shared what was good and bad about their experiences of their hospital care. In turn, this prompted questions from the student nurses about how their health care experience could be improved. The stories inspired, educated and encouraged the students to develop their learning and understanding around the impact Sepsis has on a patient's recovery."