BBC presenter contracts sepsis after awareness interview on the condition: 'I should've acted sooner'

BBC presenter who had sepsis pictured back at work. (Supplied/@SarahMcMullanTV)
Sarah McMullan is now thankfully well and back to work after suffering from sepsis. (Supplied/@SarahMcMullanTV)

A BBC Scotland presenter wasn't aware she was suffering from signs of sepsis despite having interviewed a woman who nearly died from it, a month earlier.

Sarah McMullan started feeling "really cold" during a morning shift but waited more than 36 hours to phone NHS 24 (the Scottish 111), the BBC reports, going on to spend nearly a week in hospital with a temperature reaching highs of 40 degrees.

"If you suspect #sepsis don't hesitate to get help. I should've acted sooner," the 30-year-old wrote on Twitter this week.

Read more: Student was left fighting for her life after mistaking sepsis for ‘freshers' flu’

Her illness in early October followed a television segment she did for Sepsis Awareness Month for BBC Scotland's The Nine on 1 September.

Kimberley Bradley, the interviewee, spoke about her experience of being in an induced coma for eight days after contracting what is known as meningococcal septicaemia, which had developed into sepsis.

"A month after doing this interview, I ended up very unwell with sepsis myself. Resulting in an A and E visit, a week in hospital and a couple more weeks of tablets and rest," McMullan's Tweet adds.

Speaking on Tuesday's episode of BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime, she explained, "She [Bradley] spoke through all of the symptoms and what to look out for and what to remember and when to get help and I did not remember them well enough."

It was just a few weeks later when she was in the studio in Glasgow for a morning shift that McMullan stated to notice something wasn't right. This included feeling cold with goosebumps, physically shaking, her lips turning blue, pale skin with chalk white hands, and feeling spaced out.

"It was hard to make sense of what was happening. It crossed my mind, 'Am I having some sort of panic attack?'" she said.

"It felt like something mentally might be happening to me because I was so confused and quite weepy actually."

Read more: 'We thought Mum was just exhausted. A few days later, she was gone.'

Watch: Kate Garraway reveals Derek Draper's sepsis battle

But as someone young and healthy, she disregarded how she was feeling as potentially being due to not having breakfast or the start of a cold.

"Because the symptoms can be so many things I did not realise how unwell I was," she said.

Following a nap after work, she woke again in the afternoon with similar symptoms.

After work, she went to bed for a bit, but when she woke again that afternoon she had similar symptoms. While she reportedly started to feel unwell on Wednesday morning, she didn't call NHS 24 until the early hours of Friday.

McMullan was in tears from not knowing what was wrong with her, while battling spiking temperatures. After spending five hours in A&E, she was moved to a ward, where doctors told her she was lucky she was there on a quiet night with less patients.

"Had I had a longer time to wait I cannot imagine how much more unwell I would have felt," she said

McMullan spent six days in total in hospital, but is focusing on the positives.

"It could have been a lot worse. That's what I was told on several occasions," she said.

"The doctors kept saying to me 'You have been very lucky here.'"

Posting a photo of herself feeling better and back to work on Tuesday, McMullan is now keen for everyone to be aware of the key symptoms of sepsis, as discussed in her original interview with Bradley.

She told Drivetime, "If you suffer any of these symptoms, like the spike in temperature or the uncontrolled shivering, just make the phone call and get help.

"It really is the difference between it being life or death in some instances."

What is sepsis?

Shot of a senior woman suffering from chest pain and struggling to breathe at home. (Getty Images)
Anyone can get sepsis, but older people are among those more likely to get an infection that causes it. (Getty Images)

Sepsis, sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning, is a life-threatening reaction to an infection, according to the NHS.

It occurs when your immune system overreacts to an infection, starting to damage your body's tissues and organs.

Anyone with an infection get get sepsis. But some people, including babies; over 75s; people with diabetes; people with a weakened immune system; those who've recently had surgery or a serious illness; and women who've just given birth, had a miscarriage or an abortion, are more likely to contract it (due to being more likely to get an infection in the first place).

You can't catch it from another person.

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Sepsis symptoms

Confused man. (Getty Images)
Confusion is one of the signs of sepsis. (Getty Images)

Sepsis symptoms can be tricky to spot because they are also associated with conditions like flu or a chest infection.

Early symptoms might include:

  • high temperature (fever) or low body temp

  • chills and shivering

  • fast heartbeat

  • fast breathing

Urgent symptoms in adults include, include:

  • acting confused, slurred speed and not making sense

  • blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue

  • a rash that doesn't fade when you roll a glass over it

  • difficulty breathing, breathlessness or breathing fast

Urgent symptoms in a baby or young child include:

  • blue, pale or blotchy skin, lips or tongue

  • a rash that doesn't fade when you roll a glass over it

  • difficulty breathing, breathlessness or breathing fast

  • a weak, high-pitched cry that's different to usual

  • not responding like they normally do, or not interested in feeding or normal actives

  • being sleepier than normal or hard to wake

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Baby sleeping at home. (Getty Images)
Sepsis can be harder to spot in babies and people with health conditions or learning disabilities. (Getty Images)

Call 999 or go to A&E if you, your baby or young child has any of these symptoms of sepsis. It can be particularly hard to spot in babies and young children, people with dementia, people with a learning disability, and those who have difficulty concentrating, so be extra vigilant.

You can also call 111 for advice if you, your child or someone you look after feels very unwell or like there's something wrong, hasn't urinated all day, keeps vomiting and can't keep food or milk down, has swelling pain around a cut or wound, has a very high or low temperature.

For more information on sepsis and how to prevent infections, see the NHS website.

For support for survivors, visit The UK Sepsis Trust.