Septicaemia – for dialysis patients

What is septicaemia?

Septicaemia is an infection caused by bacteria (germs) entering into the bloodstream.

How do you get septicaemia?

In order for bacteria to cause an infection in the blood they must gain entry to the bloodstream. Cuts and wounds from injury can allow bacteria into the bloodstream. In hospital, any line that is put into a vein, for example a cannula for intravenous fluids, can also allow bacteria in.

For dialysis patients, temporary or permanent access made of ‘plastic’ provides a similar opening into the bloodstream.

What are the symptoms?

Patients with septicaemia will have a fever and feel unwell. They may also notice that their dialysis line site is sore, appears inflamed or is oozing. In severe cases, patients will get intense shivering (known as rigors). If you notice these symptoms, please contact your dialysis unit or GP as soon as possible so that treatment can be started quickly.

How is it treated?

Treating septicaemia quickly is important. Without treatment, patients will become very unwell.

The first part of treatment is to take a blood sample and swabs from the skin around the line. These are sent to the laboratory to isolate the bacteria causing the infection. Treatment starts with intravenous antibiotics. After 48 hours or as the patient’s condition improves, these can be taken by mouth as tablets. The antibiotics may be altered according to the results from the blood test or the swabs.

It may be necessary to remove any line that could be responsible for allowing entry to the blood stream by bacteria if repeated infections occur or the patient’s condition does not improve with the antibiotics. Between 24 and 48 hours is often allowed to pass before a new line is inserted to avoid the risk of cross-infection.

How can I help to prevent septicaemia from occurring?

Wash your hands

Before and after touching your line, it is essential that you wash your hands thoroughly. Proper hand washing is vital to infection control.

Look after the dressing

If you have a temporary or permanent line it will have a dressing on it. It is important that the dressing is protected both to keep it in place and to keep it clean. The dressing should secure the line so that it can not be pulled or moved.

Look at your stitches

If you have any stitches (sutures) check in the mirror, if possible, that they are in place and not oozing.

Keep the site dry

If showering or bathing, ensue that your dressing is watertight. If it needs replacing make sure that you have a supply of dressings.

Check the line

The line should have caps on the end and clips on it that are closed

Above all, wash your hands thoroughly before and after touching the line.


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