Sepsis – What You Need To Know

Updated July 2021

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is life threatening and can be hard to spot. It is a form of blood poisoning that is caused by the immune system over-reacting to an infection or injury. The reasons for this occurring are still not fully understood. Normally the immune system should fight an infection. But in the case of Sepsis, the immune system reacts by attacking the organs and tissues of the body.

With early diagnosis, Sepsis can be treated effectively with antibiotics and other interventions. However, if not identified and treated immediately, Sepsis can cause many problems, including organ failure and death. It is critical that Sepsis is identified and treated. For every hour of delay in treatment, the risk of death increases by 8%, a frightening statistic.

The current statistics for Sepsis are equally frightening. 25,000 children are affected by Sepsis each year in the UK. While 5 people die every hour, as a result of Sepsis, 25% of Sepsis survivors suffer permanent, life changing after effects. In terms of the number of admissions to hospital annually, Sepsis admissions are higher than heart attacks.


Year Cases in UK


Deaths in UK


Deaths per Hour

What are the signs of Sepsis?

Sepsis can be hard to diagnose and is too often missed by lay people and medical professionals alike. There are no Sepsis specific signs to look out for, and the symptoms vary between adults and children.

The following signs and symptoms advice comes courtesy of The UK Sepsis Trust. It is important to note that the signs & symptoms are different in different age groups. Sepsis may also present differently with people with underlying medical conditions such as Asthma, COPD or illnesses such as pancreatitis.

How to spot Sepsis in Adults?

Seek medical help urgently if you (or another adult) develop any of these signs:

  • 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

How to spot Sepsis in Children?

If a child is unwell with either a fever or low temperature, call 999 and ask: could it be Sepsis? A child could have sepsis if they are:

  1. Breathing very fast
  2. Has a fit or convulsion
  3. Looks mottled, bluish or pale
  4. Has a rash that does not fade when you press it
  5. Is very lethargic or difficult to wake
  6. Feels abnormally cold to touch

How to spot Sepsis in Children under 5?

  1. They are not feeding
  2. Vomiting repeatedly
  3. Has not passed urine in 12 hours
Even small scratches can develop into sepsis. All wounds should be cleaned and dressed thoroughly and the casualty monitored afterwards.

What is the first aid treatment for sepsis?

  • If you suspect sepsis based on the casualty’s injuries, signs and symptoms, phone 999/112 immediately as ask “Could it be sepsis?” during the phone call.
  • Arrange emergency evacuation – within one hour. Give your exact location.
  • Ensure all wounds are thoroughly cleaned and dressed
  • Be prepared to treat for shock
  • Antibiotics can be administered by a qualified medical professional prior to hospitalisation

If you even suspect that any of the signs or symptoms above may be presenting in a casualty, and the seem to be deteriorating, then don’t hesitate and call 999 or 112 immediately. In more minor cases such as if you are concerned about an infection, call 111 or speak to your GP. In either case, it is always worth asking “Could it be Sepsis”?

What causes Sepsis?

Sepsis is a condition that is triggered by an infection and may develop as a result of any of the following:

  • Pneumonia – an infection of the lung tissue
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Abdominal or bowel infections
  • Cellulitis – an infection on the skin following a wound, large or small
  • Meningitis – infection of the meninges membrane in the brain
  • Septic Arthritis – joint inflammation caused by an infection

Each of these causes will present a range of different signs and symptoms. It is the challenge of the medical professionals to do tests and discover the likely cause of the sepsis as it is a time critical condition. The national target to achieve this diagnosis and deliver initial treatment is within one hour.

How is Sepsis diagnosed and treated at the hospital?

Sepsis is diagnosed through a clinical testing pathway including temperature, blood pressure, respiratory and heart rate, alertness level, glucose & lactate levels, urine output and checks for rashes.

Once sepsis is suspected, oxygen will be given, blood tests done, antibiotics prescribed, additional fluids given and lactate and urine levels will be monitored.

Research into Sepsis on an international level has lead to more effective diagnosis and the ‘Red flag’ approach to quick diagnosis and immediate treatment.

Outside of a hospital setting, it still relies on members of the public, GPs, Paramedics and first aiders to be more aware of the possibility of sepsis in a casualty. Get to know the signs and symptoms of sepsis outlined above. If you have a casualty with a wound, ensure it is cleaned thoroughly and the casualty is monitored regularly. If they have an internal wounds, be alert to their ongoing condition and the potential for sepsis developing.

How can I avoid Sepsis?

  • Prevention is important and the first step is to be aware of potential infections and thoroughly clean any wounds.
  • If you’re taking antibiotics for an infection, always complete the course even if you feel better.
  • Ensure children have all their vaccines up to date.
  • Always wash your hands regularly and thoroughly

How can I find out more about Sepsis?

The UK Sepsis Trust has lots of information on Sepsis and what you can do about it. They have annual fundraising and awareness campaigns with lots of resources available to support you. Their logo is bright red – so grab your red socks and t-shirt and give them your support!

For a more thorough understanding of how to spot signs and symptoms in a casualty, and how to look after them until help arrives, join one of our first aid courses. All of our courses include the checking, dressing and monitoring of wounds. You can view the full range for all sectors using the button below.