Hospital admissions in England for potentially deadly sepsis have more than doubled in three years.
There were rises among all age groups, including the very young, prompting the head of the UK Sepsis Trust to warn parents that they need to be just as vigilant for sepsis as for meningitis.
Sepsis is thought to kill 52,000 people a year in the UK. Ron Daniels, chief executive of the UK Sepsis Trust, said increasing antibiotic resistance in the population and growing awareness of sepsis were factors in the figures.
“A decade or two ago, infections such as urinary tract infections would be controlled by simple antibiotics. Not so today,” Daniels said. “If the antibiotic doesn’t begin to control the infection, it may become more complicated – ideal breeding grounds for the onset of sepsis. A simple urinary tract infection could develop into a complex case in which the kidneys are also involved.”
NHS Digital data obtained by the Press Association shows that there were 350,344 recorded hospital admissions with a first or second diagnosis of sepsis in 2017/18, up from 169,125 three years earlier. These included 38,401 admissions among children aged four and under, up from 30,981 in 2015/16.
There were 48,647 admissions of children and young people under 24 in 2017/18, up 32% from 36,847 in 2015/16.
“What this means is that parents need to continue to be aware of meningitis, but to arguably be even more aware of sepsis, as it affects far more children and can be equally deadly,” Daniels said.
He said the ageing population also meant that more older people were suffering from sepsis than before. Daniels said “invasive healthcare” on very young or very elderly people whose immune systems were compromised could increase the risk of infection. Any infection remaining under-treated increased the risk of sepsis developing.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has said a tool for tracking sepsis in children is not used as often as it should be, and A&E departments are struggling to ensure that children suspected of having the condition are seen quickly enough and then reviewed by a senior doctor.
An RCEM review found that while 92% of A&Es had a tool to assess the risk of sepsis in children, it was used on average only 38% of the time.
The lead author of the report, Francesca Cleugh, said the tools led to too many children with fever being placed in a high-risk category, “which has limited their consistent use across emergency departments, as it leads to over-investigation and overuse of intravenous antibiotics, which contributes to antibiotic resistance”.
Parents who suspect sepsis are advised to go to A&E. Symptoms can include looking mottled, bluish or pale, lethargy or difficulty in waking, feeling abnormally cold to the touch, breathing very fast, or having a seizure or a rash that does not fade.
Other warning signs in adults and children include high or low temperatures, difficulty breathing, grunting, and showing no interest in usual activities.