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Puerperal sepsis in the 21st century: progress, new challenges and the situation worldwide
  1. Bigna S Buddeberg,
  2. Wynne Aveling
  1. Department of Anaesthesia, University College London Hospitals, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Wynne Aveling, Department of Anaesthesia, University College London Hospitals, 235 Euston Road, London NW1 2BU, UK; wynneaveling{at}


Puerperal sepsis is one of the five leading causes of maternal mortality worldwide, and accounts for 15% of all maternal deaths. The WHO defined puerperal sepsis in 1992 as an infection of the genital tract occurring at any time between the rupture of membranes or labour and the 42nd day post partum; in which, two or more of the following are present: pelvic pain, fever, abnormal vaginal discharge and delay in the reduction of the size of the uterus. At the same time, the WHO introduced the term puerperal infections, which also include non-genital infections in the obstetric population. Recent epidemiological data shows that puerperal sepsis and non-genital tract infections are a major area of concern. In puerperal sepsis, group A streptococcus (GAS) is the most feared pathogen. Up to 30% of the population are asymptomatic carriers of GAS. GAS commonly causes throat infections. Women who died from GAS-positive sepsis all had signs of a throat infection themselves or one of their family members suffered from a throat infection. The pathway of infection is from the hands of the pregnant women or the mother to her perineum. In non-genital tract infections, influenza viruses and the HIV pandemic in the developing part of the world are responsible for many maternal deaths, and demand our attention. The physiological changes of pregnancy and the puerperium can obscure the signs and symptoms of sepsis in the obstetric population. A high level of suspicion is, therefore, needed in the care for the sick pregnant patient. If sepsis is suspected, timely administration of antibiotics, sepsis care bundles, multidisciplinary discussion and early involvement of senior staff members are important to improve outcome.


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