World Sepsis Day: Symptoms and ways to prevent the toxic reaction that kills one in five

By Sophie Collins

One in five deaths across the globe occurs as a result of a silent killer, called sepsis, which affects between 47 and 50 million people every year.

Sepsis is your body’s toxic reaction to an infection, including viral infections like the flu and Covid-19, and can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, amputations, and even death.

It can affect anyone but is more common in the very young, the elderly, or those with a weakened immune system.

To mark World Sepsis Day, here are some of the things to look out for as well as some common questions answered:

The symptoms to look out for according to the HSE are:

  • Shivering, fever or very cold
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Pale, discoloured, or mottled skin
  • Sleepy, difficult to rouse, confused
  • Shortness of breath

Who does sepsis affect?

According to health officials, age and gender have nothing to do with whether or not you can contract sepsis, and so it can occur in anyone at any age.

However, it is known to be more common in the elderly and very young children simply because their immune systems are weaker.

When can you develop sepsis?

Sepsis occurs when you get an infection and your immune system responds abnormally - damaging your organs which can be life-threatening.

Those who have existing medical conditions are more at risk than others, and while most infections can be resolved with treatment, at its height, any infection has the potential to turn into sepsis.

The most common infections in children are chest, urinary tract, tummy or if they have recently had surgery.

How can I help prevent my child from getting infections?

Ensure that your child has received all of the recommended vaccination by talking to your doctor.

If your child is injured in any way, keep any cuts or scratches clean and covered.

Ensuring good hygiene reduces the risk of infection, however, you should still contact your GP if your child:

  • Feels abnormally cold to the touch
  • Looks mottled, bluish, or pale
  • Breathing very fast
  • Is unusually sleepy and difficult to wake
  • Has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Having fits or convulsions

Any child under five should be brought to a doctor if they are:

  • not feeding
  • vomiting repeatedly
  • has not had a wet nappy in the last 12 hrs


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