Raising Awareness to Fight Sepsis
What is Sepsis?
Sepsis is the dangerous complication of any bacterial or viral infection like Group B Strep infection, meningitis, influenza or pneumonia. It triggers an extreme chain reaction throughout the body and may lead to multi-organ failure and death – especially if not recognized and treated promptly.
A shocking one in five deaths globally are associated with sepsis and there are 47-50 million cases every year. For survivors, the road to recovery takes time and many experience after-effects including: PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, fatigue, bone growth problems (for children), skin and tissue damage, limb loss, and chronic pain.
When the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord become inflamed (meningitis) due to an infection, it can develop into sepsis. Meningitis and sepsis are always medical emergencies and so it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms to prevent significant harm and loss of life.
What are the symptoms?
The following symptoms might indicate sepsis:
Slurred speech or confusion
Extreme shivering or muscle pain, fever
Passing no urine all day
It feels like you’re going to die
Skin mottled or discoloured
If you have a confirmed or suspected infection and are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is very important that you seek medical attention immediately.
Anyone can get sepsis: Sarah's Story
Those most at risk of sepsis are infants, pregnant or recently pregnant women, people over the age of 65, people with chronic or serious illnesses (such as cancer or diabetes) and those with compromised immune systems. Babies and children are at particular risk, with a WHO report indicating that almost half (20 million) of all estimated cases in 2017 occurred in children under the age of five. However, anyone can get sepsis or meningitis - even previously healthy individuals can suddenly fall seriously ill.
At age thirty, Sarah Joyce was happy, independent and had just landed her dream job travelling around Australia for her work as a nurse and educator. Her life was turned upside down when she was rushed into hospital with what she thought was a bad case of the flu. It wasn’t, though, and it took just twelve hours for meningococcal type W septicaemia to take hold of her body and begin to shut it down.
In hospital, Sarah went into a coma and her family were told that she wouldn’t survive. Doctors told them to say goodbye as her condition deteriorated.
However, to the surprise of the hospital’s medical staff, Sarah woke up after eight days in intensive care. What followed tested her strength even further, as she had several fingers and toes amputated, had four major organs shut down and had thirty-eight operations over four years. She has been back on life support four times.
In August 2020, Sarah had a kidney transplant, which means she will no longer be reliant on dialysis. Previously, she had been undergoing dialysis every week for three 5-hour sessions and suffering from side-effects, which for her included vomiting and migraines.
Through the Sarah Joyce Project and Sarah’s Recovery, Sarah shares her recovery journey to raise awareness of meningitis and sepsis. Sarah regularly appears in the media in Australia, informing people about the symptoms and preventative measures of the diseases.
“You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.”
What can I do to help fight sepsis?
To find out how we can all help to reduce the impact of sepsis worldwide, we asked Marvin Zick of the Global Sepsis Alliance, who said:
“Sepsis is preventable – the essential basic measures to fight sepsis are infection prevention through vaccination, adherence to basic hygiene rules, responsible use of antibiotics, and timely treatment. Awareness, however, is the first key step. The general public and healthcare professionals must be empowered to recognize early signs of sepsis immediately and treat it as the medical emergency that it is. Early treatment saves lives.
We invite everyone to support the GSA's advocacy efforts and join the World Sepsis Day Movement, culminating in World Sepsis Day on September 13 every year. The next decade will witness a paradigm shift in sepsis prevention and care at the individual, institutional, societal, and political levels.”