ASK THE GP: Why gardening gloves can help weed out sepsis!Ivy Madziva
We’re constantly warned to look out for — and recognise the signs of — sepsis, which can develop from a tiny scratch or abrasion. What we are never told is how to prevent it in the first place. What is your advice?
Sepsis is the consequence of an extreme response to an infection — the immune system is either overwhelmed by or overreacts to this infection.
The infections that trigger this could be quite literally anything — from an infected ingrown toenail, to a bout of pneumonia to quinsy — a complication of tonsillitis.
The over-reaction begins with the immune system triggering the release of chemicals called cytokines that encourage the blood vessels to widen, which can result in a dramatic drop in blood pressure.
Sepsis warning: Gashing your finger on a clean kitchen knife is unlikely to lead to sepsis, but a cut from a mud-encrusted tool in the garden might
This can then lead to the most severe element of sepsis — septic shock, when organs start to fail due to the lack of blood supply.
The risk factors include anything that may impair how well the immune system works. For example, advanced age (being over 65), a compromised immune system (as a result of, say, necessary treatment for some illnesses such as cancer), previous hospitalisation (particularly if time was spent in intensive care), and pneumonia, diabetes, and obesity.
Although, as you say, sepsis can develop from a small scratch or abrasion, the type of organisms that might be introduced and the risk factors that I have detailed above are of relevance; gashing your finger on a clean kitchen knife is unlikely to lead to sepsis, but a cut from a mud-encrusted tool in the garden might.
In terms of protection, wearing gloves when gardening or working with tools, and general measures that enhance immunity — a healthy and nutritious diet, some regular exercise, enough sleep, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding smoking or excessive alcohol intake — may all be beneficial.
And if any minor injury or skin infection appears to be worsening or spreading rather than resolving after a normal expected period of time, then seek medical advice.
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