Need to tackle maternal sepsis risk

A new study has highlighted the need for pregnant and newly-delivered mothers to be monitored for potentially fatal blood infections.

Sepsis is a rare blood infection which is now the leading cause of maternal death in the UK. The condition is potentially very serious, as it can cause septic shock (a rapid fall in blood pressure), which can lead to multiple organ failure and in untreated cases, death.

The study, published in the medical journal PLOS Medicine, was carried out by researchers from the University of Oxford, Northwick Park Hospital, Bradford Royal Infirmary and St Michael’s Hospital in Bristol. 

One of the study’s authors, Professor Knight, warned that pregnant women or those who have just given birth must be aware of the potential signs of the onset of sepsis. “Women who are pregnant or have recently given birth need to be aware that if they are not getting better after being prescribed antibiotics – for example, if they continue to have high fevers, extreme shivering or pain – they should get further advice from their doctor or midwife urgently,” he said.

The study collected information on all cases of severe sepsis that were treated in hospital maternity units from June 2011 to May 2012.

It found there were 365 confirmed cases of severe sepsis out of over 780,000 maternities. Out of these, five women died (around 0.05 per cent of maternities). 

Severe sepsis occurs rapidly, often within 24 hours of the first symptoms. Over 40 per cent of women with severe sepsis had an illness with a high temperature, or were taking antibiotics in the previous two weeks. The study found that genital tract infection was responsible for just over 20 per cent of cases during pregnancy and 37 per cent of cases after delivery.

The aim of the study was to identify risk factors, the sources of infection and type of organisms responsible for sepsis in expectant or new mothers, in order to improve prevention and management strategies.

Pregnant or newly-delivered women are advised to seek urgent medical attention if they have a high temperature over 38°C or are on antibiotics but are not getting better.