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Sepsis: A Little Known but Common and Life-threatening Illness

Votey* is 5 years old and lives in Vat Leap Village in Battambang District with her widowed mother, grandmother, three sisters and five cousins. Votey’s mother has a disability so uses a wheelchair at home where she takes care of all the children while Votey’s HIV positive grandmother works to support the family.

When Votey developed a sudden fever and began to lose consciousness, her mother called for help to take her daughter to the local private clinic. However the local clinic lacked the facilities to care for Votey, and she was transferred to Battambang Referral Hospital where the supervising physician took fast action and had Votey sent immediately by ambulance to Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC).

On the way to AHC by ambulance Votey’s fever continued to rise and she remained unconscious. On arrival to the AHC Emergency Room (ER) doctors initially suspected meningitis. A blood test, abdominal ultrasound, echocardiogram, lumbar puncture and blood culture were performed. Votey was eventually diagnosed with a staph infection and sepsis. Intravenous antibiotics were promptly administered, so after one night in the ER Votey was transferred to the inpatient department (IPD) for further treatment.

Sepsis is a life-threatening illness caused by the body’s response to a bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infection. Those at highest risk of developing sepsis include the very young and the very old, especially those with an impaired immune system. If not detected early infections can develop before the patient is admitted, putting them at increased risk of further complications or life-threating septic shock, where the body’s organs can shut down.

Sepsis is one of the most common diagnoses in the multidisciplinary IPD, yet despite its prevalence many caregivers are unaware of the risk factors. In response to this need, IPD staff offer lectures and information sessions to educate caregivers on prevention of infections and the symptoms of sepsis such as drowsiness, pale or discoloured skin, shortness of breath, pain and discomfort, shivering or fever.

During her first week of treatment, Votey could hardly eat and didn’t want doctors to touch her as her entire body hurt. However by her second week she began to feel better, so doctors were satisfied Votey would be safe to return home after two weeks of treatment.

Votey’s grandmother was relieved to see her granddaughter make a full recovery and is grateful to all the AHC doctors who saved her life: “Without such high quality medical care for free we wouldn’t have been able to pay for treatment. The staff and doctors have been very generous and I look forward to Votey returning to school when she is better.”

* Names have been changed for the purpose of confidentiality

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