Sepsis signs and treatment as study reveals people most likely to die from infection

Watch: Sepsis: People with chronic diseases or learning disabilities more likely to die from infection, scientists warn

Researchers have uncovered the groups of people who are more likely to contract and die from sepsis.

Analysis of NHS data suggests that people with certain medical conditions and those in deprived areas have a higher risk of developing sepsis and also have a higher risk of death.

People who have a "history of extensive antibiotic exposure" are also at higher risk, as are people with learning disabilities.

The new study, led by a team at the University of Manchester, saw experts look at data on 224,000 cases of sepsis in England between January 2019 to June 2022.

These cases were compared to more than 1.3 million people who did not have sepsis.

Researchers used a standardised measure of socioeconomic deprivation which uses information on income, employment, crime rate, living environment and education.

They found that people from the most deprived communities were 80% more likely to develop sepsis compared to people from the least deprived.

People with a learning disability were at least three times more likely to be diagnosed with sepsis compared to people without.

A quarter of patients aren't getting treatment for sepsis quickly enough [Photo: Getty]
A quarter of patients aren't getting treatment for sepsis quickly enough [Photo: Getty]

Those with chronic liver disease hand a three-fold increased risk of developing sepsis, while people with chronic kidney disease also had an increased risk.

Patients with cancer, neurological disease, diabetes and immunosuppressive conditions were also more likely to develop sepsis, alongside those who are underweight or obese and those who smoke.

Researchers also looked at deaths within 30 days of a sepsis diagnosis and found that deaths were highest among those aged in their 80s and people of white ethnicity.

But after conducting statistical analysis on the figures, they found that people from deprived backgrounds, along with patients with chronic kidney disease and chronic liver disease were the groups which had an increased risk of dying within 30 days.

What is sepsis?

According to the the UK Sepsis Trust sepsis is a serious complication of an infection, that without quick treatment can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

Latest figures estimate that there are about 250,000 cases every year in the UK, and more than 50,000 deaths, that’s around five people in the UK being killed by sepsis every hour.

Around a quarter of all sepsis survivors suffer permanent, life-changing after effects of the condition.

Amy Dowden, wearing an emerald green dress with thin straps, smiles on the red carpet as she attends the BAFTA Cymru Awards 2022
Amy Dowden opened up about the life-threatening infection she contracted while undergoing chemotherapy to treat her breast cancer. (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Celebrities who have experienced sepsis

Earlier this year Amy Dowden revealed the scary details behind her near-death experience after contracting sepsis, following her first round of chemotherapy.

The Strictly Come Dancing star, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in May, spent time in intensive care when she went into septic shock two days after the treatment.

Dowden was later told by paramedics that if she "had gone to bed that night, [she] might not have woken up the next morning".

Diversity star Jordan Banjo also revealed his newborn baby was rushed to hospital with suspected sepsis.

And last year, Kate Garraway’s husband Derek Draper was hospitalised twice with sepsis and placed in intensive care.

Kate Garraway has given an update on her husband, Derek Draper's latest health issue, pictured together in 2009. (Photo by Jon Furniss/WireImage)
Kate Garraway has given an update on her husband, Derek Draper's latest health issue, pictured together in 2009. (Getty Images) (Jon Furniss via Getty Images)

Sepsis risk factors

While the recent research has identified certain groups at risk of developing sepsis, there are some other risk factors for the illness.

You may be more at risk of developing sepsis if you have a weak immune system, if you’re already in hospital for a serious illness, if you’ve had recent surgery or an open wound, or if you have a long term health condition.

But though some people are more at risk of others it is important to note that sepsis can affect anyone, regardless of age (in fact, children can be more prone to it than adults), so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms so that you can get treatment as soon as possible.

Sepsis symptoms

According to the UK Sepsis Trust sepsis can initially look like flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection.

Symptoms to look out for in adults according to the NHS:

  • a high temperature or a low body temperature

  • chills and shivering

  • a fast heartbeat

Call 999 or go to A&E if an adult or an older child has:

  • a rash that does not fade when you roll a glass over it

  • difficulty breathing, breathlessness or breathing very fast

  • blue, grey, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue

  • acting confused, slurred speech or not making sense

Call 999 or go to A&E if baby or young child has these sepsis symptoms:

  • skin looks mottled, bluish or pale

  • is very lethargic or difficult to wake

  • feels abnormally cold to touch

  • is breathing very fast

  • has a rash that does not fade when you press it

  • has a fit or convulsion

Patients should be given antibiotics within an hour of suspecting sepsis
Patients should be given antibiotics within an hour of suspecting sepsis. (Getty Images)

Treatment for sepsis

The NHS says that if sepsis is detected early enough and has not affected vital organs yet, it may be possible to treat the infection at home with antibiotics. But if the condition becomes severe or leads to sepsis shock, most will need to be admitted to hospital, with some requiring treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU).

People with severe sepsis often witness problems with their vital organs, which means they are likely to be very ill and the condition can be fatal. However, if sepsis is identified and treated quickly enough, in most cases patients will make a full recovery with no lasting problems.

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