Rapid diagnosis of sepsis (blood poisoning)

Bugs can often get into the blood from either simple grazes or from brushing your teeth, but this does not normally cause sepsis. When bacteria or viruses get into the blood most people's immune systems rapidly and appropriately respond to the presence of these minor invasions. Depending on the type of bacteria these bugs are normally quickly and naturally dealt with, or there might be what is known as a 'mild sepsis'. On the other hand, the body can respond abnormally to this infection and sepsis itself is a potentially dangerous condition that can cause what is known as a systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS).

Diagnosing or detecting a Sepsis

When blood poisoning or sepsis is diagnosed the patient is termed 'septic'. For a doctor to reach a diagnosis there needs to be at least two of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Raised resting heart rate (tachycardia) reaching over 90 beats per minute
  • Raised temperature (>100.4 F or 38 C) or low temperature (<96.8 F or 36 C)
  • increased breathing rate of more than 20 breaths per minute
  • reduced carbon dioxide in the arteries (PaCO2)
  • abnormal haematology profile - specifically the white blood cells

The above parameters vary according to the type of patient.

In the event of sepsis, according to the patient organisation Survive Sepsis, there are a set of six basic interventions which can be delivered by any junior healthcare professional working as part of a team. These interventions are known as as the 'Sepsis Six', Performing these six interventions in the first hour doubles the patient's chance of survival.

Rapid Identification of Sepsis

So, the challenge is to be able to identify patients, especially those at risk of sepsis quickly, and this is an ideal scenario for the use of latest sensor technology including remote monitoring and for what is now termed mHealth (mobile health). Early detection of patient deterioration is vital to improving patient safety and avoiding preventable deaths.

For patients 'at risk', or with compromised immune status such as patients undergoing chemotherapy one highly practical solution involves remote monitoring systems to allow early detection. These mHealth systems combine wireless, sensing and information technologies to continuously collect and analyse patient data, The subtle variations in the patterns of a patient’s vital signs including heart rate, respiration rate and temperature indicate the early onset of sepsis and other inflammatory conditions.


NB Septicaemia has had multiple definitions over time; it has been defined as bacteraemia, blood poisoning, bacteremia leading to sepsis, sepsis, and other variations. Although septicemia appears frequently in the medical literature, a reader must be sure which definition the author is using. Some experts suggest the terms blood poisoning and septicemia not be used since they are poorly defined, but it is difficult for the medical community to disregard terms that have been used for many decades.

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