The worrying rise in sepsis deaths in Britain may be because some doctors are not taking the disease seriously, according to the UK’s leading sepsis expert.
This potentially fatal condition occurs when the immune system overreacts to an infection and begins to damage the body’s tissues and organs, and over the past decade deaths from this cause have skyrocketed: from 37,000 a year in 2013 to approximately 48,000 a year. year now.
Despite repeated awareness campaigns aimed at speeding up diagnosis and treatment, sepsis now causes more deaths than breast, prostate and bowel cancer combined.
While the rise has been partly attributed to an aging population as hospitals record more cases of sepsis than before, according to Dr Ron Daniels, founder and chief executive of the charity UK Sepsis Trust, blame may also be placed on in a significant number of skeptical doctors who believe the crisis is “all exaggeration and hysteria.”
The issue arises when the case emerged of a 30-year-old primary school teacher who died late last year from sepsis after her infection was mistaken for a virus. Gina Campanini’s family believes more could have been done to save her life.
Gina Campanini, left, pictured with her sister Maria, suffered a stroke and died from sepsis.
On a Monday morning in September, Gina, from Hertfordshire, woke up with what she thought was the flu. She suffered from chest tightness, muscle pain and a high temperature. On Thursday her symptoms had worsened and so she scheduled an appointment with the family doctor for that same day.
“They told him it was probably just a virus,” says his sister Maria, 26, a charity worker from London. “Gina was not given any medication; she was told to go home, drink plenty of fluids, and monitor her symptoms.”
Her condition deteriorated overnight and the next morning, when she began to have difficulty breathing, her parents took her to the hospital.
By this time, Gina had developed sepsis and was admitted to intensive care. Sepsis can be caused by common viruses like the flu, Covid, or, as in Gina’s case, a bacterial infection due to group A streptococcus, also known as strep A.
She was treated with antibiotics but suffered a stroke due to sepsis and, just over a week after being admitted to hospital, Gina died. Her family does not blame the family doctor for Gina’s death, but she questions why her health and youth, along with her severe symptoms, did not cause more concern.
“Gina was young, fit and healthy, so the fact that she got sick so quickly should surely have set off alarm bells,” Maria says. “Maybe if Gina was advised to go to the ER sooner, or if she knew the symptoms of sepsis, she could still be with us.”
Sepsis is caused by the body’s overreaction to an infection, causing a collapse in blood pressure and organ failure.
It can occur at any age, although it is more common in the elderly and urinary tract infections are among the most common triggers.
Bacterial infections are one of the most common causes of sepsis. Blood tests may look for an increase in white blood cells, which indicates the presence of an infection.
There is no effective test to detect sepsis. Most NHS doctors diagnose it based on problems including temperature and heart rate. Blood tests are also used to look for an increase in white blood cells, which indicates the presence of an infection, but they can take hours to get results and may not be accurate.
In 2013, the UK’s health ombudsman warned that NHS failures to identify sepsis patients were leading to avoidable deaths, including among children. In response, the Government ran an advertising campaign to raise awareness of the early symptoms, which include slurred speech, discolored skin and severe difficulty breathing. It also offered NHS hospitals £100,000 a year to track how quickly sepsis patients received antibiotics.
Studies show that rapid delivery of medications is crucial to improving survival. Before the 2016 plan, only a third of sepsis patients received antibiotics within an hour. In 2019, this figure had increased to 80 percent. But the Covid pandemic ended this improvement.
“When the pandemic started, the NHS stopped tracking this data on sepsis because there simply weren’t enough resources,” says Dr Daniels. “We’re back to square one.”
Last October, an Ombudsman report concluded that the NHS was making the “same mistakes” and needed “significant improvements” to reduce the number of preventable deaths from sepsis.
Dr. Daniels maintains that a major problem is that many doctors still do not take sepsis seriously. He points to a 2019 article in the medical journal The Lancet titled: ‘Sepsis hysteria: over-hyping and unrealistic expectations.’
The scientists involved stated that the majority of sepsis victims were elderly and frail people whose deaths should not be considered preventable. The paper warned that pressure to prescribe antibiotics within an hour to patients suspected of having sepsis would lead to “excessive and inappropriate” use of antibiotics that would fuel resistance, where bacteria evolve to become impervious to drugs.
He also pointed to the fact that only around 150 children die from sepsis each year in the UK as proof that the concerns were unfounded.
Gina Campanini’s family believes more could have been done to save the 30-year-old’s life
The paper’s lead author, Professor Mervyn Singer, an intensive care specialist at University College London, told the State Department that he stands by these conclusions.
“Sepsis has developed like a monster, but it is not as serious as it seems,” he says. “Most people who die from sepsis are about to die anyway, and the disease is just the final nail in the coffin.”
Dr. Daniels disagrees, noting that studies suggest that just under half of all sepsis cases occur in working-age adults. “There are many health professionals who say that over the last decade sepsis has been prioritized at the expense of other diseases,” he says. ‘But the fact is that we are facing a serious crisis.
‘Patients with sepsis should receive antibiotics as soon as possible, but too often this does not happen, leading to preventable deaths.
‘It’s frustrating that little has changed. Around 48,000 people die every year from sepsis and this cannot be allowed to continue.’