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Queensland puts paediatric sepsis under microscope

A Gold Coast mum will be sharing her family’s story at a special paediatric forum hosted by Queensland Health today, detailing her daughter‘s battle with a fatal illness.

Anita Douglas will speak to health professionals from across the globe at the Paediatric Sepsis Forum in Brisbane, hoping to raise awareness and generate discussion about how clinicians can better identify and treat sepsis.

Anita’s daughter Lily survived sepsis when she was only 18-months-old.

“It all started with flu-like symptoms for Lily,” Anita said.

“I knew she wasn't well but she didn't have the voice to tell me what was wrong.

“It took two hospital visits before we 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 from Gold Coast University Hospital.

“I am hoping that this forum will generate more awareness regarding sepsis, because as second time parents 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.

“Luckily, Lily was diagnosed before the infection lead to organ failure or death – but the impact of sepsis still changed our lives dramatically.”

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. 

“Up to one in a ten children who present to Emergency and Intensive Care with fever are at risk of developing or already have 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 Paediatric Sepsis Forum includes speakers from a range of backgrounds including research, infectious diseases, emergency medicine, patient safety, and Indigenous health.

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.

Each year in Australia and New Zealand more than 500 children require life support as a result of sepsis.

Media contact: +61 7 3708 5376

Last updated: 21 August 2017