Mom Shares Photo of Her Son’s Sepsis Symptoms to Warn Other Parents

Anna Halkidis
Steve Design/Shutterstock

June 14, 2019

A mom in the United Kingdom took her son to an after-hours clinic after noticing a red streak on his wrist and elbow—and it ultimately prevented what could’ve been a devastating situation. 

Alexandra Ruddy’s 8-year-old had fallen at the zoo about a week prior, she shared on Facebook along with a photo of her son’s red wrist. Although she made sure to clean the wounds and they didn’t appear infected, she noticed he developed “red tracking” near the injuries as they headed to the beach one day.

“I took him down to the out of hours feeling a bit silly but when the doctor saw it he commended me on [recognizing] it and getting down ASAP,” Ruddy wrote in the post that has now been shared more than 40,000 times.

As it turns out, her son's wound led to sepsis, a blood infection that can be life-threatening. “It isn’t something you can ‘leave’ until Monday when the doctors are back in the office,” she added. 

Luckily her son is recovering with antibiotics, but Ruddy said she hopes her post can help others who may not be aware how serious marks like her son had can be.

They are also pretty common. “That kind of infection where it spreads up into the body like that and causes a red streak, we see with reasonable frequency; it is a sign of a bacterial infection that’s spreading into the body, and that could potentially turn into sepsis," says Anne F. Brayer, M.D., who is board certified in pediatric emergency medicine. "Sepsis is really defined by an overwhelming infection that goes over what the body’s defenses can handle."

The condition can progress quickly and lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death without timely treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People with weakened immune systems, children under 1 years old, adults 65 and older, and people with chronic medical conditions are most at risk.

Common symptoms of sepsis include a high heart rate, fever (usually high but no absolutes), altered mental status (child is not as responsive as usual or seems weak or lethargic), extreme pain, shortness of breath, clammy skin, and low blood pressure. Sometimes a rash can appear all over body, or a rash that looks like little bruises known as petechiae, adds Dr. Brayer, a professor of emergency medicine, pediatrics, and the center for community health at the University of Rochester School of Medicine in Rochester, New York.

Sepsis can occur from bacteria entering the bloodstream from a number of ways, including a bacterial infection in the intestines like salmonella. Wounds are another way and with kids always running around it's easy to begin to worry. But there are things parents can do. Dr. Brayer says they should make sure to keep the injury clean. They should also monitor the area to see if the skin around the cut is getting more red, if streaks start appearing, or the redness begins to spread. Also pay attention if your child complains that the pain is getting worse.

“Those are all signs [a child needs] to be seen, and promptly, like at an urgent care or an emergency department if your doctor’s office isn’t open,” she says.