World Sepsis Day: know the signs, act fast and save a life

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition which can be fatal if not caught early enough. People with a learning disability are particularly vulnerable to the condition and will rely on you as their carer or family member to act fast and save their life.

Sepsis disproportionately affects people with Down’s syndrome and is a common cause of death for many people with a learning disability. Studies have found that children who have both Down’s syndrome and sepsis have an elevated risk of mortality. This is because people with Down’s syndrome often have a weakened immune system and are at risk of life-threatening complications.

This World Sepsis Day, it’s essential to spread awareness and learn the signs, as doing so could help to save someone’s life. 

What is Sepsis?

Five people die of sepsis every hour in the UK, with 40 per cent of survivors reporting a lasting physical, cognitive and psychological impact. Any infection can trigger the condition, and whilst symptoms may present differently from case to case, there are common symptoms to be aware of. 

The life-threatening reaction occurs when the immune system inadequately responds to an infection by injuring the body’s own tissue and organs. The immune system, which usually protects and fights against infection, instead goes into overdrive and attacks the body. If left untreated, sepsis can lead to shock, multiple organ failure and death. 

The condition primarily affects young children and older adults but is common in people with underlying health conditions. Those with a weakened immune system are also at risk because their body works less effectively to fight infection. 

How to spot sepsis in adults:

Seek urgent medical attention if you or another adult develops the following symptoms:

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

How to spot sepsis in children:

A child may have sepsis if:

  • They are breathing very fast
  • They have what appears as a fit or convulsion
  • They look mottled, bluish or pale
  • They have a rash that doesn’t fade when you press down on it
  • They are very lethargic or find it difficult to wake up
  • They feel abnormally cold to touch
  • If your child is under five and not feeding, vomiting repeatedly and hasn’t passed urine in 12 hours.

If you think you or someone else might have the above symptoms, call 999 or go to A and E and ask, “Could it be sepsis?”. 

For more information, head to The UK Sepsis Trust, where you’ll find resources and advice on what to do if you think someone has developed sepsis. The NHS also has a page dedicated to the condition. 

Know the signs, act fast and help save a life.  


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