13 September 2019
World Sepsis Day is held every year on 13th September to raise awareness of this fast-acting and deadly disease that affects at least 30 million people worldwide every year, resulting in one death every 3.5 seconds.
Sepsis is the body’s response to an infection that leads to tissue and/or organ damage. Without immediate treatment sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death. 15 to 50% of people who contract sepsis die, depending on the speed of the clinical deterioration, where they live and the healthcare and access to early diagnosis.
The terms ‘sepsis’ and ‘septicaemia’ are often used interchangeably, though ‘sepsis' is commonly used by healthcare professionals. Septicaemia occurs when a high level of bacteria enters the bloodstream.
What is the link between meningitis and sepsis?
At CoMO, we often talk about this life-threatening condition because it can be caused by the same bacteria that can also cause meningitis. While meningitis is caused by the bacteria passing into the lining of the brain (the meninges), sepsis is caused by a high level of bacteria entering the bloodstream. However, sepsis quite often presents as the clinical deterioration of infections that are both common and preventable, such as resulting from a wound or a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Like meningitis, sepsis is often confused with other conditions in its early stages and yet with every passing hour that sepsis remains untreated, the risk of mortality rises. As a result, treating sepsis can be very difficult, in part because treatment needs to be administered quickly before the damage is irreversible and also because more and more infections are becoming resistant to antibiotics. To reduce the incidence of death and life-long after effects caused by sepsis, learning the signs and symptoms is essential.
This message has been espoused by medical professionals, patient advocacy organisations and survivors worldwide. For World Meningitis Day, CoMO worked with Tilly, an ambassador for Open Bionics and survivor of meningitis and septicaemia caused by meningococcal b, to spread this message. Watch her explain her story in her own words here.
Tilly contracted the disease when she was just a baby. Babies and young children are one of the risk groups for sepsis, along with the elderly, immunosuppressed people, people with chronic liver or kidney diseases, and people without a functioning spleen. Worldwide, sepsis represents a major cause of both maternal and neonatal mortality, particularly in low and middle-income countries. This has recently been substantiated by the Meningitis Progress Tracker, a surveillance tool created by CoMO member, the Meningitis Research Foundation (MRF). They found that the available estimates suggest that meningitis and neonatal sepsis combined are the second largest infectious killers of children under the age of five.
View the tracker here and compare the available estimates in your country to others in your region.
Anyone, at anytime and anywhere
While at-risk patients require specific care, attention and education, it is also important to establish that sepsis can affect anyone at any time of their life. Even previously healthy individuals can be suddenly struck down by the disease. Sarah Joyce, founder of the Sarah Joyce Project, contracted meningococcal W septicaemia at the age of 30. Click here to watch Sarah explain her experiences with the disease and how, years later, she is still living with the after effects.
Both Sarah and Tilly live in high-income countries, Australia and the UK respectively, and yet they – like many others – were not able to receive timely and appropriate treatment before the onset of irreversible damage. In Europe alone, sepsis causes 700,000 deaths each year and kills an additional one-third of survivors during the following year. This signals that we have a long way to go, even in some of the most prosperous countries in the world.
The good news is that every single person can make a difference and potentially save a life by raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of sepsis, you can start by sharing this blog post!
The Global Sepsis Alliance – an organization that coordinates the international day of awareness – is asking everyone to become involved in raising awareness. Click here to look at the wide range of possible actions that you could do to raise awareness.
On our part, CoMO is proud to have signed the World Sepsis Declaration because we want to live in a world free from meningitis and sepsis. Public health policy and practice should reflect the urgency and seriousness of the disease and we welcome schemes that focus on early detection, as well as the administration of vaccines in order to prevent some of the illnesses that may lead to this deadly disease.