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Most people have experienced an infection, such as a sore throat or a urinary tract infection, but what is sepsis? It refers to a worsening infection, such that your body is showing strong signs that it is having a hard time handling the infection. In this article I will describe what sepsis is and the proper care of what to do if you have an infection.

Is it Infection, or is it Sepsis?

An infection is the invasion of your body by a microorganism. However, sepsis is when the infection is making your body struggle to handle it; sepsis can be life threatening so it is fundamentally important to identify it is happening and to seek the proper medical help when it’s present, typically the emergency department.

For example, there are several signs that your infection is progressing to sepsis (see below).

The Main Signs of Sepsis

• Confusion or disorientation

• Shortness of breath

• High heart rate

• Fever, or shivering, or feeling very cold

• Extreme pain/discomfort

• Clammy/sweaty skin

The common areas of infection that can lead to sepsis are the lungs (eg: pneumonia), the kidneys (eg: a progressing urinary tract infection with back pain), the skin (eg: cellulitis) and the gut (eg: appendicitis, diverticulitis). It’s often due to bacteria but can also be from viruses, fungi and parasites.

Sepsis can often develop in the hospital, or even after being discharged from recent medical procedures such as surgeries. It can develop from seemingly simple cuts or scrapes, so if you find you are getting worse, get medical professional attention.

The Three Stages of Sepsis

To gauge the severity of sepsis, note the three phases of progressing symptoms. You must have at least two of the following signs/symptoms.

• Body temperature above 101 F (38.3 C), or below 96.8 F (36 C)

• Heart rate > 90 beats per minute

• Breathing rate > 20 breaths per minute

Severe sepsis – this is when you are showing signs of organ failure and you have one or more of the following:

• Decreased urine production

• Patches of discoloured skin

• Significant change in mental status

• Difficulty breathing

• Abnormal heart pumping function

• Abdominal pain

• Decreased platelet count

• Significantly decreased urine output

• Septic shock – this is when you have the signs of severe sepsis plus very low blood pressure

Preventing The Spread of Infections

To prevent infections from spreading, it’s important to always dress any sized wound that pierces your skin. Clean the area and apply a disinfectant (eg: alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide) and cover with a sterile bandage/gauze. Change the bandage 2-3 times daily and get extra help if the wound is not sealing together. It’s important to be self aware of your energy, breathing quality and to measure your temperature, so have a thermometer handy.

If you think you have a cold or flu, it’s important to wash your hands regularly, sneeze and cough into your upper arm instead of your hands and to allow time for more rest.

Supportive Naturopathic Strategies

If you have an infection, I recommend the above and also to avoid excessive eating. It’s also helpful to avoid sugary foods since these can suppress your immune functions. Herbal medicines can also be very helpful. For example, if you have respiratory symptoms, you can prepare a steam inhalation from oregano/thyme leaves (or use 2-3 drops of the essential oil); echinacea and elderberry extracts can also support you recovering quicker.

If you have a skin cut, applying honey on the gauze can help encourage healing. For urinary tract infections, herbs such as uva-ursi and barberry can be helpful. Chronic non-healing wounds may benefit from turmeric paste application to promote healing.

Dr. Rahim Habib ND
About the Author

Rahim Habib is a registered naturopathic doctor with over 15 years of experience in general family practice. He has a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxifying their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s health, assisting kids in their learning and behavioural health with conditions such as ADHD, Autism spectrum, asthma, allergies and childhood obesity. He also helps adults with chronic conditions, such as thyroid disorders, infertility, inflammation, obesity, autoimmunity, dementia and cancer care. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or www.FamilyNaturopath.ca.