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Insight

New report estimates more people die from sepsis globally than cancer

A worrying new study by researchers at the University of Washington, published in The Lancet, suggests that more people are killed around the world by sepsis than die from cancer. They estimate the figure to be 11 million people dying from sepsis annually, double the figures previous estimated.

This current report is the most comprehensive analysis of sepsis, or blood poisoning, which affects adults and children and can be fatal if not treated appropriately. It shows that around 48,000 die from sepsis every year in the UK, a higher rate than in other European countries such as Spain, France.

Known as the hidden killer, in worst cases, sepsis causes fatal organ failure, with children particularly at risk.  Even when patients survive, they can be left with life-changing health problems and even disability.

In July 2016, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) updated its guidelines on management of sepsis. The guidelines, which should be followed by every NHS hospital in the UK, outline that doctors and nurses should regard sepsis or suspected sepsis as a medical emergency and initiate investigations and treatment without delay. Since then, the government has continued to push for better awareness of the disease which, if diagnosed quickly, can be treated effectively with antibiotics.

Unfortunately, the team at Fieldfisher is regularly instructed by clients who have suffered severe sepsis because of delays in diagnosis and treatment of infections both by their GPs and in hospital, not least because practitioners miss the symptoms and the patient deteriorates very fast.

I am currently investigating a case where there was a delay in diagnosing sepsis which resulted in our client having to have several fingers and toes amputated. Our client, a 49 year old woman, presented to A&E with typical symptoms of sepsis including uncontrollable shivering, chest pain, breathlessness and reduced urine output. The necessary tests were not requested or performed and she was discharged with a diagnosis of a pulled muscle.

The hope is that research such as this latest report continue to spread awareness of the dangers of sepsis, both within the medical community and among the public to reduce the catastrophic outcomes of the condition.

Symptoms of sepsis

In adults:

  • slurred speech
  • extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • passing no urine in a day
  • severe breathlessness
  • high heart rate and high or low body temperature
  • skin mottled or discoloured

In children:

  • a mottled, bluish or pale appearance
  • very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • abnormally cold to touch
  • breathing very fast
  • a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • a seizure or convulsion