New research finds sepsis the leading cause of preventable deaths in Queensland children

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Queensland Paediatric Sepsis Program at Children’s Health Queensland (CHQ) has partnered with the Queensland Family and Child Commission (QFCC) to complete Australia’s first population-based study to better understand the true incidence of childhood deaths from sepsis.

The Queensland paediatric sepsis mortality study found sepsis to be the biggest single cause of preventable death of children in Queensland, with many cases possibly being missed.

The report set out to identify every sepsis-related child death that occurred in Queensland between 2004 and 2021 in hospitals, at home or in the community.

At least 748 children in Queensland died of sepsis across the 18 years; 304 were newborn infants who died in hospital after birth, without ever being discharged home. The remaining 444 were infants and children up to the age of 17.

First Nations children were over-represented in the data, accounting for 20 per cent of deaths, a rate three times that of non-Indigenous children.

Dr Paula Lister, co-chair of Children’s Health Queensland’s Paediatric Sepsis Program said the accurate recording and surveillance of sepsis-related deaths is limited globally, making it difficult to know the true incidence and outcomes.

“This study suggests sepsis may be under-diagnosed in Queensland children, particularly in infection-related deaths that occur outside hospitals,” Dr Lister said.

“Children with sepsis can deteriorate very quickly and early detection and treatment are important for survival.”

The study identified five areas to improve the identification, treatment and prevention of childhood sepsis, including improving death certification processes to record sepsis and related information as causing or contributing to the death and implementing culturally appropriate health campaigns.

The study also identified a future research opportunity to understand the drivers of sepsis-related mortality within regional and remote communities, those experiencing socio-economic disadvantage, and among First Nations communities.

Dr Paula Lister said: “This paper has identified opportunities to strengthen awareness within the community about sepsis and its risks, but also within clinical practice to better support professionals at the first point of contact.”

“The suggested improvements in death certification practice are also critical to informing the research element to our prevention activities and can be implemented very easily with education and practice change.”

Read the full media release: Sepsis going undetected among Queensland children | Queensland Family and Child Commission (