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New research shows 39% of adults are not aware of the signs and symptoms of sepsis

New research shows 39% of adults are not aware of the signs and symptoms of sepsis

March 5, 2024

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1 in 5 people who develop sepsis will die from it

A new HSE public information campaign launched today in collaboration with patient advocates to highlight the signs and symptoms of the life-threatening condition, sepsis. It comes as new research* shows a high awareness of sepsis among the public, but a low knowledge of the signs and symptoms of sepsis.

Sepsis requires urgent medical attention and can hide behind any infection, at any age, making it hard to detect. There are around 13,000 cases of sepsis notified in hospital each year and 1 in 5 people who develop sepsis die from it. As symptoms of sepsis can often be mistaken for something else, the HSE is advising people who have an infection and are not getting better to ask ‘Could it be sepsis?”

Research Findings:

  • 39% of adults say they’re not very aware or not aware at all of the signs and symptoms of sepsis
  • fever is the symptom most associated with sepsis however, it’s also easy to confuse this symptom with other conditions
  • 51% of adults would not be confident in dealing with someone they suspect of having sepsis
  • symptoms of sepsis are easy to dismiss, miss or mistake for something else.

Dr Michael O’ Dwyer, Clinical Lead, HSE Sepsis Programme said,

“This new campaign is an important addition to our communications in increasing knowledge of sepsis among the public. Sepsis can arise out of any infection, at any time. Exhaustion, quick-breathing, shivers and pains, confusion and a feeling that you’re going to die, not passing urine, these are all signs that it could be sepsis. Sepsis is a serious condition that requires urgent treatment. It’s also important to know that symptoms can be different in adults and children so I’d encourage people to visit to learn more about the signs and symptoms.

In March 2023, Conor Callaghan a 24-year-old from Dublin, training for a marathon, became severely unwell. Having spent two nights in hospital Conor awoke in the middle of the night suffering a long-lasting seizure. Tests showed he had sepsis. Sepsis had caused damage to two valves in Conor’s heart. He spent a number of weeks in hospital and underwent open heart surgery in May. Conor said, “I’m doing well now, and have made a better recovery than was expected. Sepsis has had a huge impact on my life and it all happened very quickly, over a number of days.

“I really welcome this new awareness campaign and feel very strongly that people should become familiar with the signs and symptoms of sepsis as it may help to save lives. I would encourage people to always ask ‘Could it be sepsis?

Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer, HSE, welcomed the new information campaign, saying,

“Sepsis is a cause of significant illness, some of which is preventable. This campaign aims to help people to recognise the signs and symptoms of sepsis as we know that early treatment can lead to better outcomes. We continue to work with colleagues across the health service, providing sepsis training and resources for the effective management of this life-threatening condition.

The campaign will run on local and national radio and across social media channels. As part of the campaign development, the HSE engaged with patient advocates and the Irish Sepsis Foundation to help inform the communications. New sepsis information leaflets were also developed in late 2023 and distributed to GPs and pharmacies. These leaflets are also available to order for free on

Signs and symptoms of sepsis in adults (including maternity) are:

S Slurred speech, new confusion, too sick to communicate, drowsiness

E Extreme shivering, muscle aches, fever

P Has not passed urine in the last 12 hours and does not feel like passing urine

S Shortness of breath, lips tinged with blue, feels like your heart is racing, dizzy when you sit or stand

I I feel like I'm going to die

S Skin mottled and discoloured, new rash that is still visible when pressed on with a clear glass (glass test).

The signs and symptoms of sepsis in children are:

  • Very fast breathing
  • Fits or convulsions
  • Mottled skin (irregular colour) bluish or pale
  • A rash that does not fade when you press it
  • Unusually sleepy and difficult to wake
  • Unusually cold when you touch them
  • Has had no pee for more than 12 hours

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