What is septicaemia?

 

If Savita Halappanavar’s condition was an obstetric emergency, as has been described, then her doctors were under a duty to do whatever was necessary to save her life, even if that meant sacrificing the life of the foetus.

For doctors caring for a pregnant woman, there is a pecking order and in that pecking order the life of the mother comes first. Whether or not Ireland has an abortion law, and what that law says, would be irrelevant to the case.

In most countries the unborn foetus has a different legal status – and fewer rights – than after it has been delivered as a live human being. Only then does it acquire  the protection of the full gamut of the law.

But was it an obstetric emergency? Ms Halappanavar died of septicaemia,  a severe infection of the bloodstream which can occur as a result of any cause from an infected toenail to a problem with a pregnancy.

She is reported to have been told that she was starting to miscarry, presumably because her waters had broken or she was bleeding.

But it is unclear whether the miscarriage caused the septicaemia or the septicaemia the miscarriage.

If her membranes ruptured early that could have allowed bacteria to ascend from her vagina into her uterus causing an infection which developed into septicaemia. Rupture of the membranes normally signals the start of labour but if there is a delay, as in this case, the risk of infection rises.

The other possibility is that she had another infection – such as of the appendix or kidney ( she complained of back pain) – and that caused the blood infection. But that is less likely.

If a woman develops an infection in her womb,  that can cause a miscarriage. The infection stimulates contractions and the waters break. In that case it may be important to remove the contents of the womb, by inducing delivery of the baby, to protect the mother.

But there is a balance to be struck and sometimes mothers whose pregnancy is on the verge of viability – capable of delivering a live baby – will delay in order to give their baby a better chance.  This puts them at greater risk.

Women die from septicaemia linked to pregnancy in the UK every year, and deaths – though rare - are on the increase. But they are normally at a more advanced stage of pregnancy than in Ms Halappanavar’s case.

In the UK, a woman whose membranes broke at 17 weeks would be offered a termination to avoid the risk of infection, which would be carried out by inducing labour to deliver the foetus. There would be no chance of delivering a live baby at 17 weeks.

 But at  23 weeks women are given a choice of being induced immediately, with the likely death of the foetus, or help to keep them stable and delay the birth till 26 or 27 weeks when the chance of a live birth is much increased.

 Many women opt to wait. But, with the removal of the barrier protecting the womb from invading bacteria following rupture of the membranes, they run the risk of infection.

If an infection occurs it can be rapid, severe, and difficult to treat – and may in rare cases be fatal.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links