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Sepsis awareness guide launched for health visitors and school nurses

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A new guide to improve awareness of sepsis among health visitors and school nurses has been launched by Public Health England, stressing nurses must be able to signpost parents to help if their child becomes unwell.

Health visiting and school nursing services are not intended to treat or diagnose acutely unwell children, but staff must have some knowledge of sepsis in children to help parents decide the most appropriate course of action based on symptoms, states the guidance.

“Infants and children are often challenging to assess, as they will compensate physically for a long period until they…deteriorate rapidly”

PHE guide on sepsis in children

The document stresses that sepsis is a “serious but rare” condition that results from the body’s overwhelming response to an infection.

It can occur in anyone and from any type of infection affecting any part of the body, the guidance says.

Without quick and timely treatment it can lead to septic shock, multi-organ failure and death, it adds.

The document includes information on the causes and symptoms of sepsis, support for parents, and additional resources for health visitors and school nurses.

It states that while sepsis is most often caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections, sometimes the cause is never known.

But public health nurses should be aware that children with pneumonia, urinary tract infections, meningitis and severe skin infections can rapidly deteriorate and develop the condition.

Health visitors and school nurses should advise parents and carers to watch an ill child carefully and should always take their concerns seriously, says the guidance, called Sepsis in Children: Information for health visitors and school nurses.

They should also make parents aware that while mostly all children will recover quickly from illness, in certain cases some may develop sepsis, which requires immediate medical attention.

Sepsis can be hard to diagnose because it often resembles a viral illness, the guidance says.

The document sets out “red flags” that should lead to immediate action. These include a child with mottled, blueish or pale skin, being lethargic or difficult to wake, abnormally cold, breathing very fast, having a rash that doesn’t fade when you press it, and having a convulsion.

“Infants and children are often challenging to assess, as they will compensate physically for a long period until they reach a point where they are overwhelmed and deteriorate rapidly,” states the guidance.

The document advises nurses looking for detailed information to refer to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s guideline on sepsis recognition, diagnosis and early management.

Subscribers can access a free Nursing Times Learning unit on Sepsis: early recognition and management

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