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Thursday, July 4, 2019 

Sophia Bullard, Crew Health Programme Director at UK P&I Club, advises on how the risk of sepsis can mitigated at sea.

Sepsis is a rare but potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body’s overreaction to an infection that can affect the organs and tissues. Although precise figures are difficult to ascertain, some scientific publications report that it affects more than 30 million people worldwide every year, potentially leading to six million deaths. It is therefore important that shipowners are aware of the risks sepsis can cause and put in place appropriate prevention and treatment procedures.

People are more likely to develop sepsis after a viral illness but it can affect anyone, regardless of age or state of health. Sepsis can result from an infection anywhere in the body, even an infected cut or bite. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who survive are left with life-changing effects.

There are two main steps to preventing sepsis, prevention of infection and prevention of the evolution to sepsis. Prevention of infection involves using effective hygiene practices, such as hand washing and safe preparation of food, improving sanitation and the quality and availability of water, providing access to vaccines, particularly for those at high risk, as well as appropriate nutrition. Prevention of the evolution to sepsis requires the appropriate antibiotic treatment of infection, including reassessment, prompt seeking of medical care, and the early detection of sepsis signs and symptoms. 

Sepsis can be difficult to treat unless you are a medical professional, used to spotting the signs of sepsis. If suspected, it is advised to request urgent medical assistance and begin treatment.

Guidelines for treatment are available, although its is appreciated that not all recommendations may be available onboard:

  • Check oxygen levels using a pulse oximeter, and give enough oxygen to keep their oxygen saturation above 92% 
  • Give antibiotics in accordance with a doctor’s advice
  • Give fluids – intravenously, if possible
  • Measure how much urine is passed
  • Undertake urgent medical evacuation

Bullard says: "Sepsis is an extremely serious and potentially deadly condition. All seafarers and shipowners should be aware of the risk it poses to crew welfare and take steps to prevent it.”

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