Sepsis Can Cause a Red Line on Your Skin—Here's What You Need to Know

A mother warns other parents after noticing the mark on her son.

Sepsis is a potentially fatal condition that's caused by an extreme reaction the body has to an infection.

But would you know how to identify this life-threatening reaction?

A mother, Alexandra Ruddy, noticed a red mark on her son's arm that left her with an uneasy feeling. This gut instinct led her to take her eight-year-old to the doctor's office immediately. And it's a good thing she did: Her son had sepsis.

Ruddy shared a photo of the mark on Facebook and mentioned that her son had taken a fall that resulted in open wounds. She wrote that the wounds didn't look infected when she noticed the red mark on his arm, highlighting the fact that sepsis can occur with little warning.

"[O]n our way to the beach, he showed me his hand. I wasn't happy as I noticed red tracking down his vein. I then checked his elbow—the same," Ruddy wrote on Facebook. She admitted that she felt "a bit silly" seeking medical help after noticing the red lines, but that her instincts proved right. "[The doctor] commended me on recognizing it and getting [to the doctor] ASAP. This is blood poisoning/sepsis. It isn't something you can 'leave' until Monday when the doctors are back in the office."

Sepsis happens when an infection you already have triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Without timely treatment, sepsis can rapidly lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. At least 1.7 million adults in America develop sepsis. Nearly 270,000 Americans die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Sepsis is the most serious form of any infection," Frank Esper, MD, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic, told Health. "Sepsis is when you have an infection so bad it is disseminating across the body—kidneys shutting down, liver shutting down, heart's in trouble." Seeking medical care quickly is of the utmost importance once you see symptoms, which may include mental decline, a fever, and fatigue.

A red mark like the one on Ruddy's son may appear if an infection travels through the lymph nodes to other parts of the body. "It's very concerning. You need to be on antibiotics immediately," said Dr. Esper, adding that his team sees these marks often.

Ruddy wrote that her son's health improved when he started taking antibiotics to treat his infection. But she cautioned other parents not to wait if they notice a mark like his on their child. "If you spot this red line running from a wound along the vein, get yourself/your child seen straight away," she wrote.

Dr. Esper said there's a simple way to keep track of whether or not redness around a wound is spreading, which could signal infection. "Take a pen and mark around the site. Draw a border around the redness. Does the redness go beyond that mark [the next day]? If you're on antibiotics and the redness goes beyond those markings, we're on the wrong antibiotics or we need something more powerful."

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