Unfamiliarity breeds infection

Wed 5th Dec 2007 by Ben Palmer.

I have now downloaded a copy of "Saving Mothers' Lives" and am reading through it. A few paragraphs under the Genital tract sepsis chapter have caught my attention:

"As in previous Reports there was failure or delay in diagnosing sepsis, failure to appreciate the severity of the woman’s condition with resultant delays in referral to hospital, delays in administration of appropriate antibiotic treatment and late or no involvement of senior medical staff. There were some cases where doctors said they were already so busy dealing with other urgent problems that they were unable to see women for some time after admission. It was also clear that many doctors, midwives and community midwives were unfamiliar with the signs and symptoms of sepsis, did not realise when a woman was deteriorating or critically ill and failed to appreciate how quickly the clinical condition of a septic woman can deteriorate. There were also failures to take routine basic observations, to recognise abnormal fetal cardiotocograph (CTG) patterns and to ask for senior advice at an early stage."

"These cases of classical puerperal sepsis due to Group A haemolytic streptococcal infection demonstrate that by the time sepsis is clinically obvious, infection is already well established and deterioration into widespread septicaemia, metabolic acidosis, coagulopathy and multi-organ failure is very rapid and often irreversible. The best defence against this situation is awareness of the early signs of sepsis and early recognition by routine regular basic clinical observations. Earlier detection of pyrexia might have made a difference in these three cases. Postnatal observations of pulse, temperature, BP, respiration, and lochia should be done regularly while the woman is still in hospital and for several days after discharge by her community carers. This is particularly important in women who leave hospital a few hours after birth, ‘early discharge’, or if a woman complains of feeling feverish or unwell."

"In the past, puerperal sepsis or ‘childbed fever’ was a leading cause of maternal death and its signs and symptoms were widely known. Antisepsis, antibiotics and changing practice over the years mean that genital tract sepsis has become much less common and death is rare. The fear and respect with which it as held in the past by obstetricians, midwives and patients has disappeared from our collective memory. Action is now required to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of sepsis and recognition of critical illness among staff in maternity units or in the community, Emergency Departments, and among GPs and health visitors.

The cases in this Report clearly demonstrate that genital tract sepsis is still a problem, that is repeatedly missed and there is often failure to treat women early and aggressively enough. Some of these maternal deaths may have been prevented if the signs and symptoms of sepsis and developing septicaemic shock had been recognised and treated earlier. Nevertheless the clinical picture of life-threatening sepsis often develops very rapidly and in many of the cases the outcome could not have been prevented."

There are more sections that could well have been cut and pasted from the previous report. And the one before. Why did I ever wonder if there was a point to raising awareness of sepsis? I have a very strong sense of deja vu. I hope these recommendations are followed in the future.

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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.
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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.