A student was left fighting for her life after mistaking sepsis for ‘freshers' flu’

Georgia Coulson thought she was suffering from 'freshers' flu' but she actually had sepsis. (Caters)
Georgia Coulson thought she was suffering from 'freshers' flu' but she actually had sepsis. (Caters)

A student was left fighting for her life after mistaking the symptoms of sepsis for ‘freshers' flu’.

Georgia Coulson, 20, from Guildford, Surrey, spent days partying in September 2021 during freshers' week, which left her feeling run down and suffering from a fever.

As the days passed and her condition worsened, the maths student started to get more concerned.

Having called 111 twice, Coulson says doctors believed she could have coronavirus, despite negative PCR and lateral flow tests.

She was eventually told to come to A&E after concerns she could have appendicitis, but by the time Coulson reached A&E her body was going through septic shock and she was put into an induced coma for 16 days.

Now out of hospital and feeling "lucky to be alive" Coulson hopes her story will help to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of sepsis.

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

Coulson was left fighting for her life after mistaking sepsis for 'freshers flu'. (Caters)
Coulson was left fighting for her life after mistaking sepsis for 'freshers flu'. (Caters)

“I had never heard of sepsis before so I just assumed I had an intense version of freshers flu as I was partying a lot," she says. “I spent three days in bed suffering with hot and cold sweats, fatigue and a sharp pain every time I took a breath.

“I called 111 twice and was told it was likely to be coronavirus even though I had taken a PCR and lateral flow test which both came back negative.

“I was hoping it was going to clear up after a few days but I was deteriorating by the minute.

“At the time, I didn’t realise a high temperature and shivers were symptoms of sepsis."

Coulson says by the time she arrived at A&E she was too weak to stand and was rushed for further testing, including a CT scan and an X-Ray.

“I was diagnosed with pneumonia and told I had gone into septic shock," she says. “My blood pressure was extremely low and I was put onto a ventilator in intensive care.

“The first night was very touch and go for a while as my oxygen levels were dangerously low.”

Read more: These are the signs and symptoms of sepsis to be aware of

Coulson was in an induced coma for 16 days. (Caters)
Coulson was in an induced coma for 16 days. (Caters)

After 16 days in an induced coma, Coulson woke to find out she had actually been battling sepsis.

She was discharged on October 20 2021 and is still struggling with the aftermath of the infection.

“It is a long road to recovery," she says.

“The doctor said it could take six months to a year to feel normal again.

“At the moment, I am still fatigued and sometimes my lungs hurt."

Watch: Mum who lost limbs to sepsis looking forward to hugging her children thanks to bionic arms

Coulson says she is sharing her story to raise awareness about the potentially life-threatening condition and urge others to get their symptoms checked.

“If I had gone to my GP or A&E a few days before, it could have been spotted quicker," she explains.

“Sepsis spreads fast so another day at home could have cost me my life.

"I hope my story encourages others to get checked out when they feel unwell."

Read more: Mum who lost all four limbs to sepsis will soon be able to hug her children

Coulson is now at home and recovering. (Caters)
Coulson is now at home and recovering. (Caters)

What is sepsis?

According to the the UK Sepsis Trust sepsis (also known as blood poisoning) is a serious complication of an infection, that without quick treatment can lead to multiple organ failure and death.

Sepsis is the immune system’s overreaction to an infection or injury.

"Normally our immune system fights infection – but sometimes, for reasons we don’t yet understand, it attacks our body’s own organs and tissues," the site explains.

Latest figures estimate that there are about 250,000 cases every year in the UK, and more than 52,000 deaths, that’s around 5 people in the UK being killed by sepsis every hour.

Around a quarter of all sepsis survivors suffer permanent, life-changing after effects of the condition.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

The UK Sepsis Trust sepsis can initially look like flu, gastroenteritis or a chest infection.

But there is no one sign to look out for, and symptoms are often different between adults and children.

Symptoms to look out for in adults according to the NHS:

  • a high temperature or a low body temperature

  • chills and shivering

  • a fast heartbeat

  • problems or changes to your breathing

  • feeling or acting differently from normal – you do not seem your usual self

Symptoms to look out for in children according to the NHS:

  • looks mottled, bluish or pale

  • is very lethargic or difficult to wake

  • feels abnormally cold to touch

  • is breathing very fast

  • has a rash that does not fade when you press it

  • has a fit or convulsion

If left untreated, the condition can be severe, and cause even more unpleasant symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, feeling or being sick, severe muscular pain, breathlessness, pale or mottled skin, and in some cases, unconsciousness.

“You may even notice that you aren’t urinating as much. If you notice any of these, you should go to your nearest A&E and state that you’re having symptoms of septic shock,” Dr Gall explains.

How is sepsis treated?

The NHS says that if sepsis is detected early enough and has not affected vital organs yet, it may be possible to treat the infection at home with antibiotics.

But if the condition becomes severe or leads to sepsis shock, most will need to be admitted to hospital, with some requiring treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU)

People with severe sepsis often witness problems with their vital organs, which means they are likely to be very ill and the condition can be fatal.

However, if sepsis is identified and treated quickly enough, in most cases patients will make a full recovery with no lasting problems.

Additional reporting Caters.

Watch: Bill Clinton releases video message as he recovers from sepsis- 'I'll be around a lot longer'