Sepsis campaign an Australian first

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Queensland is the first jurisdiction in Australia to launch a sepsis awareness campaign. Could this be sepsis? was launched in June.

The campaign follows the work of the Queensland Sepsis Breakthrough Collaborative and Steering Committee to drive sepsis awareness among clinicians. It aims to reduce preventable harm by improving early recognition and management of sepsis.

Sepsis is a life-threatening illness caused when the body’s response to infection damages its own tissues and organs. The World Health Organization identified sepsis as a leading cause of mortality and morbidity, with almost 5,000 Australians dying from the condition each year. This is more than twice the number of deaths caused by road traffic accidents. Deaths from paediatric sepsis are higher than road toll deaths and leukaemia combined.

The grim statistics prompted the development of adult and paediatric sepsis emergency department clinical pathways. These pathways are being tested at several sites across Queensland. The Chair of the Statewide Sepsis Steering Committee, Professor Bala Venkatesh, said the pathways were a cognitive tool designed to aid clinicians’ decision making. ‘It guides clinicians to consciously rule in or rule out sepsis, facilitates timely recognition and commencement of appropriate therapy, and maintains antimicrobial stewardship.’

Prof. Venkatesh said sepsis-related mortality and morbidity rates could be reduced if sepsis awareness improved. ‘Outcomes for adults and children are improved if sepsis is recognised early, and treatment is started promptly. But even if we have the best evidence-based clinical pathways and treatment bundles on hand, if consumers don’t present to an emergency department soon enough their chances of survival are reduced.’

The Department of Health’s Strategic Communications Branch (SCB) is implementing a public awareness campaign to target parents of small children and the community.

SCB Executive Director Robert Hoge said the approach is utilising consumer insight, clinical expertise and campaign strategy. ‘This is a really valuable partnership,’ Mr Hoge said.

‘The need is clear, and the knowledge and drive of our clinical experts is second-to-none.

‘But partnering with Clinical Excellence Queensland to generate consumer insight, work on awareness-raising—with clinicians and the general public—and build behaviour change is making a difference.’

The Clinical Lead for Paediatric Sepsis, Associate Professor Luregn Schlapbach, says a pattern has been identified in paediatric sepsis cases. ‘Parents often seek advice from a GP or a hospital multiple times before sepsis is identified because its symptoms can mimic other, less serious illnesses, such as the flu or gastro. Getting sepsis to front of mind for both consumers and clinicians is the key in getting treatment initiated promptly.’

The campaign also targets GPs through information packs, with a sepsis HealthPathway being explored through Clinical Excellence Queensland’s General Practitioner Liaison Officer network.

Assoc. Prof. Schlapbach said a key component of the Could this be sepsis? program was the involvement of consumers. ‘We are fortunate to have many passionate paediatric and adult sepsis consumer representatives involved and participating in a co-design process with a multidisciplinary team of clinicians.’

‘It’s helping to ensure our resources are responsive to everyone’s needs. It’s certainly one of the most rewarding projects I have been involved with.’

Just ask: Could this be sepsis?

Visit the program website, or email, for more information.

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Last updated: 27 August 2019