Hear the word septicaemia and it’s all too easy to presume the worst but the truth is the disease doesn’t always result in death.

That’s not to say it isn’t dangerous. It is a potentially life-threatening infection, and one that requires immediate medical assistance and treatment.

What is septicaemia?

Septicaemia, also known as blood poisoning, is an infection sparked when a large amount of bacteria enters the bloodstream. It affects thousands of people every year and can be incredibly dangerous. This is due to the fact bacteria can spread throughout the body on entering the bloodstream.

What causes septicaemia?

Blood poisoning can develop from a seemingly innocuous wound or burn, or result from a serious illness. It’s the job of white blood cells to fight off infections caused by bacteria but sometimes infections will develop that can’t be controlled by the cells, either because the infection is too severe or someone’s immune system is two weak.

When this occurs, bacteria can enter the blood stream, get carried to tissues and organs, and trigger immediate symptoms. Those who are more vulnerable include older people, young children, and those whose immune system isn’t as robust.

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What are the symptoms of septicaemia?

The symptoms, such as fever, chills, rapid breathing and rapid heart rate, usually start very quickly. As the septicaemia progresses, other more serious symptoms will develop, including confusion and the inability to think cohesively, nausea, vomiting, and insufficient blood flow.

Is septicaemia the same as sepsis?

No, it’s not. Sepsis is a serious complication of septicaemia, which can occur if septicaemia is left untreated. According to statistics on www.nhs.uk, “there are around 123,000 cases of sepsis a year in England, and around 37,000 people die every year as a result of the condition”.  In sepsis, the immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight an infection. This in turn can reduce the blood supply to vital organs. Septic shock occurs when there’s a considerable drop in blood pressure and will usually require time in an intensive care ward. Another complication is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).

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What treatment is there?

Treatment will normally depend on how quickly it’s been diagnosed and factors such as age, general health, the severity of the condition and tolerance to medications. If it hasn’t affected vital organs, blood poisoning can be treated with a course of antibiotics to treat the infection.

If the case is more severe then the person is likely stay in hospital and be given antibiotics intravenously via a tube straight into the vein. Fluids and other meds might also be used intravenously, as might an oxygen mask to ease breathing issues, and in the most serious situations, the person might need to be supported by machines to help the vital organs function properly.

Is there any way to prevent septicaemia?

It’s possible to reduce the risk of infection by keeping cuts and burns clean and correctly dressed, ensure you’re up to date with immunisations, and boost your immune system through regular exercise and a well-rounded diet.

Will there be long-term damage?

Caught early enough, there shouldn’t be any long-term damage. In more serious cases, there might be permanent damage to organs and body tissue and in the most severe instances, when it’s not possible to treat the infection, it can prove fatal.

Seek medical advice immediately if you suspect you, or someone you know, might have it.

Do you know anyone who’s suffered from septicaemia? Tell us in the comments box below