Sepsis: the little-known disease that kills 37,000 people every year
EVERY three-to-four seconds, a person dies of sepsis — a poorly understood disease killing 37,000 people in the UK every year.
Today is World Sepsis Day and staff at the Royal Bolton Hospital are joining the drive to improve early recognition and reduce the number of deaths caused by the disease.
Sepsis is common and often deadly and remains the primary cause of death from infection, despite advances in modern medicine such as vaccines, antibiotics, and intensive care.
Often misunderstood as “blood poisoning”, sepsis arises when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. It can lead to shock, multiple organ failure, and death, especially if it is not recognized early and treated promptly.
Recovering sepsis patient Tom Horrox, from Blackrod, was nearly killed by the disease when he came down with what he thought was a virus in February.
The dad-of-three was working away in London as a service engineer when he started being violently sick in the middle of the night.
After calling the NHS Help Line Mr Horrox was advised to see a doctor the next day in Kent who told him it was a virus. He managed to drive home to Bolton but his condition went rapidly downhill within hours.
The 50-year-old said: “I’ve always been a very fit and active person, and very rarely will I go to the doctors.
“I just decided to drive home and when I got back I rang my parents, who live in Deane, because I was so nauseous. When they came round, they found me in the bathroom vomiting blood. To be honest, I don’t remember any of the drive back to Bolton or when my parents found me.”
Mr Horrox’s parents immediately called an ambulance and he was taken to the Royal Bolton Hospital.
After initially struggling to diagnose him with sepsis, doctors put Mr Horrox into an induced coma in the intensive care unit.
By this point, his organs had begun to shut down to fight the infection and his family were told they could lose him.
Mr Horrox said: “They called my family in because they didn’t think I would make it through the night. By then I had multiple organ failure. I’d gone from being physically fit all my life and barely ever ill — I wasn’t even born in hospital — to this.
“It was a shock to all of us. I didn’t know how bad it had been until much later because I was out of it. When they told me I’d had sepsis I couldn’t believe it. I had never really heard much about it before or realised how bad it could be.
“But it’s not just the sepsis itself, it’s the after effects that have been hardest to deal with.”
Mr Horrox did make it through the night but was in a coma for two weeks.
He soon realised the sepsis would have serious long-term effects on his health.
Mr Horrox said: “Both my hands, my feet and my chin had all turned black because the septicaemia shuts your body down, including my kidneys.
“The left side of my body has actually healed a lot quicker, which is strange. Some of my toes on my right side are still black. At one point the doctors thought they might have to amputate.”
His illness was so severe it also caused renal failure in both kidneys, meaning he relies on five hours of dialysis twice a week.
His daughter Leigh, aged 19, is now in the final stage of donating a kidney after it was found she was a successful match.
“All of my family had tests to see if they could donate a kidney and my daughter’s was the only one to come back as a match, “ said Mr Horrox, who also has two sons Christopher, aged 18 and Mark, aged 24.
“I suppose before you go through something like that, you just think it’ll never be you.”
His case is an extreme example of sepsis but illustrates the potentially fatal consequences of the disease if not recognised early on.
Staff at the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust — who run the Royal Bolton Hospital — are holding a special study day today (FRI) aimed at improving the early recognition and management of patient’s with Sepsis.
Dr Jeremy Wood and Ward Sister Anne Gerrard work on the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Royal Bolton and deal with the most extreme cases of Sepsis. They are aiming to improve the mortality rate caused sepsis by 10 per cent.
Dr Wood said: “Awareness is the key to tackling sepsis. It’s about getting the message out there at all levels of medicine and care, not just in hospitals.
“The number of cases is on the increase in the UK by 8 to 12 per cent per year so early recognition is crucial, whether it’s GP’s or staff in the hospital.”
Ms Gerrard added: “It’s not just about World Sepsis Day, we have been actively working on sepsis awareness since 2008. This is really a culmination of everything we have done. We don’t want to scare everyone into thinking they have the disease, we just want to ensure the right initiatives are in place to ensure it is recognised early.”
The Royal Bolton’s initiatives include training all junior doctors in early sepsis recognition during the study day, introducing screen savers and the ‘sepsis six’ recognition steps for staff.
For more information about World Sepsis Day, go to: world-sepsis-day.org.
PANEL: Sepsis – the symptoms The symptoms of sepsis may develop after a localised infection (infection limited to one part of the body) or an injury.
The symptoms of sepsis usually develop quickly and include:
• a fever or high temperature over 38C (100.4F)
• a fast heartbeat
• fast breathing
• confusion or deliriu
Symptoms of severe sepsis or septic shock include:
• low blood pressure that makes you feel dizzy when you stand up
• a change in your mental state, such as confusion or disorientation
• nausea and vomiting
• cold, clammy and pale skin
Experts advise patients contact their GP first if they have concerns about sepsis.
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