Clinical focus: a look at neutropenic sepsis

Blurred ambulance

What is it?

Neutropenic sepsis is caused by a condition known as neutropenia.

Neutropenia is where the number of white blood cells (called neutrophils) in the blood is low. Neutrophils help the body fight infection.

Patients who can be at high risk of neutropenic sepsis are people having anti-cancer treatment, particularly chemotherapy and more rarely radiotherapy. This is because these treatments can temporarily lower the neutrophils in the blood. Some anti-cancer treatments are more likely than others to cause a temporary period of neutropenia.

What does it look like?

A patient will have recently undergone chemotherapy treatment and have a raised temperature higher than 38˚C. It can also present with other signs or symptoms consistent with clinically significant sepsis.

What should I do about it?

Patients should have been alerted to this condition and carry a card. Open access to a cancer ward at their local hospital is common and admission should be arranged immediately by ambulance either directly to the ward or via the emergency department.

Neutropenic sepsis is a rare condition – the Trust has produced a ‘rare conditions handbook’ that covers this, and other rare illnesses, to help with your clinical decision making. You can download a copy here.

Published 1st March, 2016

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