Almost three-quarters of Irish people do not know what sepsis is, even though it is a bigger killer than breast cancer, lung cancer or heart attack.
Sepsis, also known as septicaemia or blood poisoning, is a potentially life-threatening complication of an infection or injury, in which large amounts of bacteria are present in the blood.
Sepsis is a silent killer because it is rapid and unpredictable, and can go undiagnosed due to its non-specific signs and symptoms.
Almost 15,000 cases of sepsis were diagnosed in Ireland in 2016, resulting in 3,000 deaths. Furthermore, some 60% of all deaths in Irish hospitals are related to a sepsis infection.
According to a new survey, which was carried out on behalf of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and the Rory Staunton Foundation for sepsis prevention, just 28% of Irish people know what sepsis is.
Similar research in the US found that this figure was much higher - 55%.
The survey also found that a larger number of people over the age of 50 understand what sepsis is, with the lowest awareness found among people under the age of 25.
"Doctors and researchers will continue their work to find ways of effectively treating sepsis, but awareness is what will really save lives. Every delay of one hour in starting treatment increases the risk of death by 8%. Sepsis can kill in 12 hours and that is why it is so critical that everyone in the community is empowered with the information to ask ‘could it be sepsis?' These four words could save your life," explained Prof Steve Kerrigan of the RCSI.
He noted that the symptoms of sepsis mimic the flu, such as high temperature, rapid breathing, rapid heartbeat, pale skin and general sickness. However, the main difference between sepsis and flu symptoms is that sepsis comes on very quickly, while flu comes on over a few days.
A group let by Prof Kerrigan has discovered a potential breakthrough drug, InnovoSep, which could prevent sepsis from developing in at-risk people, or prevent the condition from progressing to a life-threatening situation.
"This treatment has significant potential, but it's also important for people to be aware that there are simple things we can do to reduce the risk of sepsis occurring. Every cut, scrape or break in the skin can cause infection. All wounds need to cleaned quickly with clean water. If you have a wound that can't close, then you most likely need stiches and you should get to a hospital," he said.
The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted last month by Behaviour and Attitudes.
For more information on the Rory Staunton Foundation, click here