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Sepsis - what everyone should know

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10-14 September 2018 is World Sepsis Week, and staff at Oxford University Hospitals will be working to raise awareness of this serious condition.

Sepsis affects over 250,000 people every year in the UK, claiming at least 44,000 lives. It occurs when the body's response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs. Instead of local inflammation resulting from a local infection, the body's entire system goes into inflammation. 

Worldwide, over eight million people die from sepsis every year, and it is also a leading cause of maternal death. It is frequently under-diagnosed at an early stage - when it is still potentially reversible. Early recognition and treatment reduces sepsis mortality by 50 percent.


The annual World Sepsis Day, initiated by the Global Sepsis Alliance in 2012, falls in 2018 on Thursday 13 September, and the Trust is marking the day with an event on Level 3 of the John Radcliffe Hospital's Academic Centre, from 12.30 - 4.30pm.

Staff from the University of Oxford's 'Oxford Simulation, Teaching and Research (OxSTaR)' will be bringing along mannequins to demonstrate scenarios where sepsis might be present, and offer guidance to Trust staff on how to diagnose and manage sepsis patients. 

The message is simple:  'Just think - could it be sepsis?'

One member of Trust staff who knows only too well the importance of spotting sepsis at an early stage is OUH Matron for Neurosciences Lucy Parsons (pictured): in 2014 her then six-year-old daughter Lola almost died from the condition, spending three days in Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital.

It all started on 5 November, when Lucy went as normal to collect Lola from school at 3.00pm in the afternoon.

The teacher explained that she 'had not been herself' and that she might be 'upset' after a classroom disagreement. Lucy found Lola curled up on the floor, feverish, and as they left, the little girl was sick. Lucy wondered if Lola had caught the chicken pox her elder sister had just recovered from.

On changing Lola's clothes at home Lucy realised Lola had a rash, rather like sunburn, all over her back. She contacted her GP at 4.30pm, but the GP could not see them until 5.30pm. The GP noticed some localised bruising, suspected meningitis and immediately sent her to the John Radcliffe Hospital's Emergency Department. By this time it was 7.00pm and Lola was drowsy, and needed to be carried through the door.

"I carried her in and immediately the team began caring for her. I recall a consultant saying they were doing 'all they could'. It was a terrifying and lonely night as I sat beside Lola while they were trying to find out what was making her so ill. Lola was diagnosed with septic shock."

Lola and Lucy were lucky: Lola survived her ordeal, following three days in intensive care, and is now a healthy ten-year-old. 

Lucy is passionate about raising awareness of the condition that nearly killed her daughter, and teaching both parents and school staff to think of sepsis as a possibility when a child is unwell.

"You may feel instinctively that something is seriously wrong with your child" she says. "Seek medical advice immediately - don't wait, and be persistent.

"What struck me was the fast, dramatic deterioration of her condition; but then how the right treatment with antibiotic therapy saved her life."

On World Sepsis Day Lucy is setting off to China to raise money for the UK Sepsis Trust, by walking along the great wall with other families whose lives have been affected by the condition.

Read about Lucy's walk in 'Our fabulous staff'

Sepsis is now a 'Quality Priority' for Oxford University Hospitals, and in May 2018 sepsis survivor Tom Ray was guest speaker at a conference for Trust nurses and midwives. The Trust has also produced a video, Geoff's Story, in which a former patient describes his own experience of battling the condition.

Sepsis can affect anyone, old or young, well or with existing illnesses.

You can find more information about sepsis at the following links:

What Is Sepsis? (Video)

@WorldSepsisDay | #wsd18

Pictured: Lucy Parsons with daughter Lola at their Oxford home