Direct Line magazine

What’s Sepsis and how can you spot it?

Updated on: 17 June 2021

Sepsis infection bacteria

You’ve likely heard of sepsis, often known as blood poisoning, but what do you really know about it?

Direct Line has partnered with The UK Sepsis Trust to help raise awareness of sepsis and stop preventable deaths.

What’s sepsis?

Sepsis is our immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury. Most of the time our immune system fights infection, but occasionally it 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.

Take sepsis seriously

Around the world, sepsis claims the lives of 11 million people a year – that’s one person every three seconds.

In the UK 245,000 people are affected 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.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

Knowing how to spot the signs is vitally important as an early diagnosis makes it possible to treat sepsis with antibiotics.

The problem is that there’s no one sign of sepsis and it can often be mistaken for common illnesses such as flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection. But there are some symptoms to look out for, with distinct differences between how it presents in children and adults.

How to spot sepsis in adults

sepsis symptoms

How to spot sepsis in a child

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

The UK Sepsis Trust says that if you spot any of these signs, 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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