Sepsis – the ‘silent killer’ threatening your practice

David Gibson, Marketing Manager of Eschmann, looks at the potential dangers of sepsis – a rising concern across dentistry and other healthcare services – as well as preventative infection control measures that can be taken to minimise the risk of this complication occurring.

Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) celebrates World Hand Hygiene Day on 5 May by hosting a SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands campaign. This year the slogan was, “It’s in your hands – prevent sepsis in health care”, to help raise awareness of sepsis and encourage prevention through effective hand hygiene and infection control practices. This is part of a much larger effort to tackle the potentially deadly condition, with a number of other events held recently, including Sepsis Unplugged 2018 by the UK Sepsis Trust and a new campaign that was launched by the Scottish Government back in February.

Sepsis is a rare but serious complication of an infection that affects 260,000 people in the UK each year and results in 44,000 deaths annually.[i] That’s a higher mortality rate than bowel, breast and prostate cancer combined. It develops when chemicals released from an individual’s immune system into the bloodstream cause inflammation throughout the body rather than fight the infection like they’re supposed to. If sepsis is left undiagnosed and untreated, it can result in organ failure and septic shock with symptoms including low platelets, abnormal heart function, unconsciousness, discoloured skin and more.

Worryingly, sepsis can develop from all manner of viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. Staphylococcus aureus and Enterococcus are the most common gram-positive organisms behind sepsis cases, while the most frequent causes of gram-negative sepsis are E. coli, Enterobacter, Pseudomonas, Proteus, Acinetobacter and Klebsiella.[ii] These microorganisms can present in a variety of ways, but research shows that respiratory tract infections – particularly pneumonia – are the most common sites of infection with sepsis; and have the highest mortality rates too.[iii] Other infections that are commonly associated with sepsis are urinary tract infections, wound and soft tissue infections, and abdominal infections, amongst others.[iv]

With the dental setting known to be a high-risk environment for the transmission of dangerous pathogens, the possibility of sepsis occurring as a result of infection is a very real possibility, and is a threat not to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and despite practices’ awareness of guidelines in place and expected standards transmission is still known to occur from time to time. Even the most efficient of practices are not immune to making the odd mistake, and it is not unheard of for practices to still be let down by infection control during their CQC inspection. If the risk of infection – and therefore sepsis – is to be reduced to the lowest possible level, practices are going to need to take their infection control to the next level. Here are some tips that might help:

Hand hygiene: If this year’s World Hand Hygiene Day and WHO’s Clean Your Hands campaign have taught us anything, it’s that hand hygiene is not to be underestimated when it comes to preventing the transmission of pathogens and infections that can lead to sepsis. Be sure to provide training on hand hygiene to staff regularly throughout the year and ensure the correct facilities and products are in place.

Quality equipment: You might be carrying out the right decontamination processes, but if the standard of your equipment isn’t up to scratch then the end result won’t be either. Invest in quality solutions from a reliable manufacturer that will help to ensure instruments are disinfected and sterilised effectively day in, day out.

Look after your equipment: Once you have quality equipment that is specially designed to withstand the demands of the dental environment, such as the Little Sister range from Eschmann, you must ensure that it is well looked after. Regular testing, maintenance, servicing and validation will help to preserve the lifespan and performance and minimise the risk of your washer disinfector and autoclave breaking down.

There has been a lot of progress in infection prevention and control over the years and standards have improved greatly across the UK. Despite this, the risk of infection and sepsis remains. To keep the threat of the ‘silent killer’ at bay in your practice and protect patients and staff alike, take action about dangerous pathogens today.

For more information on the highly effective and affordable range of decontamination equipment and products from EschmannDirect, please visit www.eschmann.co.uk or call 01903 753322



[i] The Sepsis Trust: Sepsis affects 260,000 people every year. Accessed online May 2018 at https://sepsistrust.org/sepsis-affects-260000-people-every-year/

[ii] Polat G, Ugan RA, Cadirci E, Halici Z. Sepsis and Septic Shock: Current Treatment Strategies and New Approaches. Eurasian J Med. 2017; 49 (1):53-58. Accessed online May 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5389495/

[iii] Esper AM, Moss M, Lewis CA, Nisbet R, Mannino DM, Martin GS. The role of infection and comorbidity: Factors that influence disparities in sepsis. Crit Care Med. 2006;34:2576–82. Accessed online May 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16915108

[iv] Mayr FB, Yende S, Angus DC. Epidemiology of severe sepsis. Virulence. 2014; 5 (1): 4-11. Accessed online May 2018 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3916382/#R35