Sepsis happens when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive in response to an infection. It is often referred to as septicaemia or blood poisoning.

Everybody is potentially at risk of developing sepsis from minor infections, such as a bacterial throat infection. However, people with immunodeficiency and other causes of a weakened immune system (e.g. no spleen or on immune suppressant treatment) are more at risk.

If picked up early it can be relatively easy to treat but if treatment is delayed it can progress to septic shock.

What to look for

Early signs of sepsis include:

  • a high temperature (fever)
  • chills and shivering
  • a fast heartbeat
  • fast breathing

These are the ‘cardinal’ signs of serious infection that people with immunodeficiency are usually made aware of by their healthcare team.

If this progresses to septic shock then the body “shuts down” and patients may experience:

  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • confusion or disorientation
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • cold, clammy and pale or mottled skin

What to do?

The NHS recommends to see your GP immediately if you have recently had an infection or injury and you have possible early signs of sepsis.

Severe sepsis or septic shock are medical emergencies. If you think that you or someone in your care has one of these conditions, call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Other sources of information 

Reviewed by Dr Matthew Buckland, Chair of the Medical Panel, August 2022.