Death by any other name

Sun 10th Jun 2007 by Ben Palmer.

I've now received so many messages, through comments on this blog and mostly by email, from women who have survived Puerperal Sepsis (or Childbed Fever) that it deserves comment.

Often the sepsis is due to retained placenta, but equally often - as in Jessica's case - it is not. To underline the problem, Jessica had a totally normal, textbook delivery. In the aftermath of her death and during the legal investigation every aspect of delivery and immediate post delivery care was scrutinised and no fault was found.

A perfect, complication free delivery is no guarantee of safety from sepsis. Jessica died because Group A Streptococcus invaded her uterus. Group A Strep is a relatively common bacteria - 'Strep Throat' is a more common manifestation. What is amiss is not to recognise the symptoms of Group A Strep when it takes a hold. It is a nasty and highly toxic organism and unless the symptoms of infection are caught early enough, death is a very real outcome.

Whatever the cause, infection in mothers should ring alarm bells, and the trigger should be any sign of fever or general feeling of unwell. Do not put a feverish temperature down to mother's milk coming in unless you are certain it cannot be infection.

When I was born my mother and I spent over a week in hospital so any infection would, had it occurred, in all probability have been picked up quickly enough. The fact that mothers are now turfed out of their beds in as little as six hours does not mean that the risk of childbed fever has diminished in any way.

It is purely complacency and cost saving. The risk is as strong as ever, and the stories that I have heard of so-called 'dirty' mothers with an infection pleading to be readmitted is heart rending. All too often it has been an understanding family GP with experience of working in third world countries that has insisted on admission and thereby saved the poor woman's life.

It makes me weep to know that there may be another Jessica any day. The reality is that there probably have been several, but I just haven't heard yet.

tags: valley

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What is childbed fever?

Childbed fever is an infection of the womb in new mothers which can lead to septicaemia. If left untreated infection will cause organ failure and death - even in young, fit mothers.
What are the symptoms? »
Childbed fever: the facts »

What's the aim?

We would like every parent and every midwife and doctor to know that childbed fever is still a very real threat to a mother's life.
more »
Can I help? »

Who is Jessica?

Jessica Palmer was a Mum. She died in June 2004, at 34 years old, of childbed fever caused by Group A streptococcus.
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This website contains general information about childbed fever. The information is not complete or comprehensive. You should not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or healthcare provider. If you have any specific questions about childbed fever (or any other medical condition) you should consult your doctor or other healthcare provider; and if you think you may be suffering from childbed fever (or any other medical condition) you should seek immediately medical attention. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.