Ever heard of blood poisoning before? Perhaps yes. But, have you ever seen a victim of blood poisoning? Probably not.
This is because blood poisoning, otherwise known as septicaemia, is a rare condition, but that is not to say it does not happen to people. And when it happens, it’s such a serious condition that can progress rapidly and cause death if the victim delays in getting medical help.
Physicians say the term ‘blood poisoning’ actually refers to the presence of bacteria in the blood. They, therefore, call it ‘bacteremia.’
The only way people develop blood poisoning is through infectious agents such as bacteria, virus or fungus, any of which can enter the body and find their way into the blood stream, where they wreak havoc.
General Practitioner, Dr. Lola Ayobami, says blood poisoning occurs when bacteria that cause infection in another part of the body enter the bloodstream. “Infection in the lungs, abdomen, and urinary tract are commonly linked to blood poisoning,” she explains.
She adds that sometimes, a person can develop blood poisoning while battling another infection; while it can also occur before certain infections. Avenues through which blood poisoning can happen include:
Tattoo: Are you considering taking a tattoo? If your answer is yes, you may need to have a rethink. Ayobami says being a puncture wound, a person who has recently got a tattoo is vulnerable to developing an infection, because bacteria can easily enter into the body through the wound.
She advises that if you must have a tattoo, patronise a professional tattoo artist, and make sure you follow the after-care instructions in order to avoid pathogenic skin infections that could lead to blood poisoning.
Open wounds: Many people are careless with their wounds. When they sustain an injury, they do weird things such as “plastering” it with fine sands, in an attempt to stop the bleeding; while some simply leave a wound to fester, in the process of which it collects all sorts of dirt.
In the case of children, when parents neglect to take care of a child’s injury, flies may begin to perch on it, transferring infectious agents to the wound.
Ayobami warns that anybody can develop blood poisoning, but there are people whose risks are higher. Professor of Oncology, Remi Ajekigbe, says those undergoing treatment for cancer, as well as those who have undergone organ transplant could develop septicaemia.
He says, “In recent times, doctors have started treating cancer patients and organ transplant patients, among others, with strong medications that weaken the immune system. Of course, when people’s immune systems become weak, they are open to all sorts of infections, among which is blood poisoning.”
Ayobami adds that those whose immune systems are not functioning properly because of medical conditions such as AIDS may develop blood poisoning.
The physicians lament that certain medical treatments such as chemotherapy for cancer or steroids for a number of medical conditions weaken the immune system, predisposing the patient to developing sepsis.
Ayobami advises parents of very young babies to prevent their babies from getting infected. She notes that babies’ immune systems develop gradually and are therefore not as strong as an adult’s, hence the need to be very careful with the way they handle everything belonging to babies, including their feeding bottles, infant formula, etc., so as to make sure that the babies are protected from any infection whatsoever.
Elderly people, especially the diabetic, stand a risk of developing septicaemia if they don’t take their treatment seriously.
The physician adds that even where an elderly person does not have debilitating diseases, old age could also predispose to blood poisoning because of weakened immune system.
Worse still, Ayobami warns, patients can develop sepsis after they have undergone surgical procedures, hence the need for doctors to monitor their patients, while the patients must also adhere strictly to the post-surgery counseling their physician might give them.
Living in unhygienic and crowded conditions through which people can be infected with contagious diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis can also expose anyone to pathogens that could find their way into the bloodstream and ultimately lead to bacteremia.
As for those who share intravenous needles such as drug addicts, they stand a huge risk of developing blood poisoning through infection.
Pregnant women must keep in regular touch with their doctor because they can also develop blood poisoning. This is because, in order for them to carry their pregnancy to term, their immune system must mellow down so that their body will not see the growing foetus as a foreign object to be expunged. This state of immune suppression therefore makes them prone to blood poisoning.
Ayobami says at the initial stage, an individual suffering from blood poisoning will show tell-tale symptoms such as chills, high fever, rapid breathing, increased heart rate and paleness.
She warns that advanced symptoms of blood poisoning may be life-threatening. The symptoms include confusion, red spots on the skin, shock and, in some cases, little or no urine output.
The physician says patients may not attempt to diagnose this life-threatening disease by themselves because its symptoms mimic those of other conditions.
“Since you’re not a medical doctor, you may reach a wrong conclusion when you attempt to diagnose your symptoms. Rather, if you or your loved ones have these symptoms, see the doctor, who will be able to diagnose the problem and offer appropriate treatment,” Ayobami counsels.
Experts say one way to prevent blood poisoning is to be treated for any infections you may have. Being up-to-date with vaccines is another preventive measure, especially for children.
Again, septicaemia can be prevented by practising good hygiene and washing the hands frequently to prevent entry of harmful bacteria into the body.