Septicemia,also called septicaemia or septicæmia, or erroneously septasemia and septisema, is a related but deprecated medical term referring to the presence of pathogenic organisms in the bloodstream, leading to sepsis. The term has not been sharply defined. It has been inconsistently used in the past by medical professionals, for example as a synonym of bacteremia, causing some confusion. The present medical consensus is therefore that the term “septicemia” is problematic and should be avoided.
Septicaemia kills over thirty seven thousand people a year and is a leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer, and claims more lives than breast or bowel cancer. Many people are infected after routine surgery for example a vasectomy or hernia operation. It occurs when an infection in the bloodstream causes the body’s immune system to go haywire and start attacking the body it is meant to protect. Among its victims are Superman actor Christopher Reeve, former Bee Gee Maurice Gibb and Pope Paul 11.
Despite the number of victims it claims, its symptoms are often unrecognised by doctors and nurses. As a result the window for effective treatment is missed with fatal consequences. Hospital specialists have now launched a campaign to educate medical staff and raise public awareness of the condition. They say that prompt recognition and treatment for all septicaemia cases could halve the death rate at a stroke, saving thousands of lives.Although septicaemia is recognized as a major cause of death it is often not mentioned on death certificates. Instead doctors simply write more general diagnoses such as pneumonia or perforated bowel because patients have not even been tested for bacterial infection.
Causes of Septicemia
Infections of cuts or surgical wounds both carry a risk or developing septicemia. These wounds that begin to feel hot, look red, have red streaks coming out from them, or that seem to be draining pus should all be examined by a doctor. Since many people who have surgery now go home within a day or two, self-examination is important to rule out possible infection. With a large cut or surgical wound, one has a slightly increased risk of septicemia, because blood loss lowers the body’s natural immunities.
Burns are another major causal factor in septicemia. Third degree burns are particularly vulnerable to infection, and the larger the burn, the greater the chance of infection. Often third degree burns damage the nerve endings of skin, causing people not to initially feel pain at the site of the burn. People may not notice initial infection of burns without visual inspection.
Another possible cause of septicemia is internal injury, such as a stomach injury after a car accident. Intestinal rupture, gall bladder disease and rupture of the appendix or spleen are indicated in septicemia as well. These ruptures very often are treated with antibiotics from the onset, since the blood is immediately exposed to high and dangerous bacteria levels. This is particularly of issue with intestinal perforations, which spill bowel contents into other parts of the body, causing almost immediate septicemia.
Symptoms and The Warning Signs
Sudden high fever or unexplained shivering accompanied by drenching sweats.Sometimes sufferers may not look hot, instead the skin may look blotchy or turn blue. Hands and feet may feel cold and clammy.Generally feeling unwell. Headaches and limb pains though the sufferer may have the symptoms of pneumonia or urinary infection.
Abdominal pain,an unexplained rash on any part of the body,nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are part of the cascade of symptoms which lead to dehydration and a fall in blood pressure. Anxiety, drowsiness and confusion. The sufferer may seem vacant or behave strangely. Shortness of breath and rapid heart rate as the body struggles to compensate for loss of blood pressure.
Treatment and recovery
Immunisation can protect people from certain bacteria that can cause septicaemia. For example, in the UK babies are vaccinated against group C Meningococcus as part of their routine immunisation programme.
To reduce the risk of wounds and burns becoming infected, keep them clean and properly dressed. If you suspect an infection, seek medical advice before more serious problems have the chance to develop. The same applies to any suspected tooth or gum infections.
Septicaemia is a medical emergency requiring urgent hospital treatment. This may include antibiotics to kill the invading bacteria.
Often intensive care therapy is needed to support any organs that have been damaged by the infection. If treatment is given early enough, most people make a good recovery.
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