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Many 'Flu Deaths' Really Caused By Sepsis

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Image By U.S. Army photo by Maria Pinel

When you hear about someone dying from flu, or flu-related illness, in most cases they’ve died from sepsis according to the Chair of Queensland’s Statewide Sepsis Steering Committee.

Professor Bala Venkatesh said sepsis killed more adults across Queensland than breast, prostate and colorectal cancer combined, and more than road traffic accidents.

“Queensland hospitals treated more than 20,000 people for sepsis in 2017-18 and more than 2,000 died from the disease,” Professor Venkatesh said.

“Sepsis is a life-threatening illness which occurs when the body’s own response to an infection damages its tissues and organs.

“It is a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment. The sooner treatment starts, the better the outcomes are likely to be.

“Sepsis can result in death, or permanent disability from amputations, or brain damage.”

Queensland is the first jurisdiction in Australia to launch a public sepsis awareness campaign.

Sepsis can be difficult to diagnose as symptoms can easily be confused with those of common illnesses such as gastroenteritis or the flu.

Professor Venkatesh said 2018 sepsis admissions in Queensland public hospitals were 18 percent higher than 2016.

Symptoms of sepsis can vary, which is why it’s vital to know what to look out for and when to seek help.

“It is important to recognise when an infection could be progressing to a more severe illness,” he said.

“Make it a priority to know the signs of sepsis.

“If in doubt, ask a medical professional: Could this be sepsis?”

Signs and symptoms of sepsis:

Adults should seek urgent medical advice if they have any one of the following symptoms:

  • rapid breathing
  • a rapid heart rate confusion, slurred speech or disorientation
  • not passing much (or any) urine
  • a rash, or skin that is discoloured, clammy or sweaty.

If you think it could be sepsis, don’t wait – seek urgent medical advice by calling 000 or presenting to a hospital emergency department and ask: Could this be sepsis?

Children - Sepsis can progress more rapidly in young children and infants.

Call 000, or present to a hospital emergency department and ask Could this be sepsis? if your child shows any one of the following:

  • convulsions or fits
  • is difficult to rouse/floppy
  • has rapid and laboured breathing
  • has discoloured skin, is very pale or bluish
  • has a rash that doesn’t fade when you press it
  • has unexplained pain or is very restless
  • is sick and is not passing urine (or no wet nappy) for several hours.
  • Public hospital admissions for Sepsis in adults and children:

Hospital and Health Service             2016       2017       2018

Cairns and Hinterland                       1,247      1,387      1,408
Central Queensland                          820         854         1,015
Central West                                     30           28            54
Children’s Health Queensland          436         342          352
Darling Downs                                   855        1,063       1,297
Gold Coast                                        1,292      1,700       1,877
Mackay                                              598         801          815
Mater Public Hospitals                       724         727          775
Metro North                                       3,441       3,749       3,881
Metro South                                      3,173       3,399       3,560
North West                                        155          205          228
South West                                        51            58            79
Sunshine Coast                                 1,411       1,581       1,636
Torres and Cape                                81            79            128
Townsville                                          1,280       1,303       1,211
West Moreton                                    1,093       1,154       1,230
Wide Bay                                           988          1,086       1,314
Queensland                                       17,675     19,516      20,860