Queensland shines a light on paediatric sepsis

Friday, August 25, 2017

Health professionals from across the country came together in Brisbane on 21 August 2017 to discuss the global threat of sepsis at a special Statewide Paediatric Sepsis Forum.

The United Nations World Health Assembly recently highlighted sepsis as a global threat, with children and infants considered at greatest risk of developing the condition. 

Sepsis occurs when the body struggles fighting an infection which can rapidly lead to organ failure and death. Each year in Australia and New Zealand more than 500 children require life support as a result of sepsis.

The forum follows the adult-focused sepsis event held in May and is designed to raise awareness and discuss how Queensland clinicians can better identify and treat sepsis.

Gold Coast mum Anita Douglas, whose daughter Lily survived sepsis, joined their treating clinician Dr Christa Bell to share her family’s story, saying the impact of sepsis changed their lives dramatically.

“It all started with flu-like symptoms for Lily. I knew she wasn't well and being only 18 months old at the time she didn't have the voice to tell me what was wrong.”

Anita said it took two hospital visits before they started getting answers for Lily's illness.

“I understand we had a very fortunate outcome to a very dire situation and we are eternally grateful to all the teams that worked on Lily. But we are especially grateful for the training and actions of Dr Christa Bell. I am hoping that the forum generates awareness regarding sepsis. Because as a second time parent it wasn't until we were in the grasps of losing our daughter that we knew or understood anything about the disease."

“For parents I truly can say that you need to trust yourself as a parent and listen to your 'gut feeling' because you know your child better than anyone else.”

Dr Christa Bell, emergency department staff specialist at Gold Coast University Hospital, said rates of sepsis tended to be higher around seasonal outbreaks of common viruses which have a self-limiting course. “In Lily’s case she had contacted the common parainfluenza virus in the week prior to me caring for her. Despite being an otherwise healthy and fully immunised toddler, Lily unfortunately developed a secondary invasive bacterial Staphylococcal infection, which lead to her becoming critically unwell.”

“Anita’s prompt recognition of Lily’s changing condition, trusting her ‘gut feeling’ by returning to the hospital, and being a voice for Lilly was a major factor in Lily’s survival of this deadly disease.

 “Beating sepsis in children is a team effort: parents are the experts of their child and know them best. Education and awareness is the first step in prompting parents and the healthcare team to ask the question ‘could this be sepsis?’”

Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital intensive care unit staff specialist and Mater Research Institute – University of Queensland (MRI-UQ) researcher Associate Professor Dr Luregn Schlapbach said early recognition and diagnosis of sepsis were key to enable rapid treatment, leading to improved outcomes.

“Around one in a hundred children who present to emergency will have, or be at risk of developing, sepsis. Identifying these children before they deteriorate is a daily challenge in hospital.”

“If we can diagnose sepsis earlier, we can provide appropriate treatment before the infection becomes life-threatening,” he said.

He said research was under way to determine if new genetic markers could improve the recognition of sepsis in children.​

Dr Andrew Hallahan, Paediatric Lead for the Clinical Excellence Division, said the Children’s Early Warning Tool had been developed to assist clinicians in recognising and responding to clinical deterioration, including sepsis.

“A program of work to improve the early recognition and treatment of paediatric sepsis has been established, led by a special committee of clinical experts.”

The program provided a holistic discussion about paediatric sepsis and included speakers from a range of backgrounds including research, infectious diseases, emergency medicine, patient safety, and Indigenous health.


Last updated: 16 November 2017