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Sepsis: National Guidance
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Sepsis: National Guidance

Guidance issued by OEAP

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition arising when the body’s immune system reacts to an infection. Worldwide, it results in more deaths than cancer. In the UK, it affects hundreds of young people every year. Sepsis is a medical emergency – delays of just a few hours in accessing health care can make the difference between life and death. Visit leaders therefore need to be aware of the possibility of participants developing sepsis, and to know what to do.

Sepsis can be triggered by any infection, including pneumonia, urinary infection, skin and soft tissue infection, abdominal infections such as appendicitis, and meningitis. This means that, whilst minor self-limiting infections are very common and require little or no action, a young person with symptoms of an infection (such as a fever, a cough or feeling generally run down) should be considered potentially at risk of sepsis.

Sepsis typically develops over 48-72 hours, but it can be much more rapid. Young adults can be incredibly resilient – they can function normally as an illness develops and then experience a sudden and rapid deterioration. In rare cases a young person can progress from looking and feeling relatively well to being critically ill in just a few hours. Delay in seeking medical help can be fatal.

Symptoms of Sepsis

Sepsis is difficult to spot, even for an experienced health care professional, so the key for a leader is to trust your instincts and to act if you are concerned. Don’t worry about overreacting – health professionals would rather see a healthy young person than have a case of sepsis missed.

If someone develops any one of the following symptoms, it is vital to get them to hospital as quickly as possible (in the UK, take them to A&E or dial 999).

• Slurred speech or confusion;

• Extreme pain in the muscles or joints;

• Passing no urine in a day;

• Severe breathlessness;

• ‘It feels like I’m going to die’;

• Skin that’s mottled, discoloured or very pale.


If you think they arevery sick,but the hospital isn’t taking their condition seriously, you may need to trust your instincts and be assertive. Just ask: “Could it be sepsis?"


Download the information sheet to share with your teams.

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