Churchill magazine

Sepsis: what is it and how can you spot it?

Updated on: 21 June 2021

Sepsis infection bacteria

Like many people, you’ve probably heard of sepsis, often known as blood poisoning, but how much do you really know about it? Churchill has partnered with The UK Sepsis Trust to help raise awareness of sepsis and stop preventable deaths.

What’s sepsis?

Sepsis is what happens when our immune system overreacts to an infection or injury. When this happens, rather than fighting infection, our immune system will attack our body’s organs and tissue. We don’t yet know why this happens, and without treatment it could lead to organ failure and death.

Sepsis is very serious

Around the world, sepsis claims the life of one person every three seconds – that's 11 million people a year. It affects around 245,000 people in the UK each year, leading to around 48,000 people losing their lives to sepsis-related illnesses. This is more than breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined. Of those who do survive, 40% suffer permanent, life-changing after effects.

How to spot the symptoms of sepsis

If you catch it early, it's possible to treat sepsis with antibiotics, so knowing how to spot the signs is essential. The problem is that sepsis can often be mistaken for common illnesses such as flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection because there’s no one definitive sign. But there are some symptoms you can look out for, with distinct differences between how it presents in children and adults.

Sepsis symptoms in adults

sepsis symptoms

Sepsis symptoms children

A child may have sepsis if they:

  • Are breathing very fast
  • Have a ‘fit’ or convulsion
  • Look mottled, bluish, or pale
  • Have a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Are very lethargic or difficult to wake
  • Feel abnormally cold to touch

If your child has any of these symptoms, the UK Sepsis Trust says to call 999 or go straight to A&E and just ask, “could it be sepsis?”.

A child under 5 may have sepsis if they:

  • Are not feeding
  • Are vomiting repeatedly
  • Have not passed urine for 12 hours

The UK Sepsis Trust says that if you spot any of these signs, call 111 or see your GP and just ask, “could it be sepsis?”.

For more information on sepsis and the work The UK Sepsis Trust is doing, visit You can also check out the charity’s educational game, Sepsis Savvy.    

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