Sepsis and Camp Nurses

Camp nurses are in a unique position while caring for their charges. They work directly with the campers and counselors 24 hours a day throughout their camp stay. For some children, their time at camp is their first ever time away from home and their parents. The camp nurse is even more important if campers or staff become ill or are injured.

Camp life, with the shared living quarters and new experiences and activities, can lead to illness and injuries. Camp nurses must work on keeping their charges as healthy as possible while dealing with illness and injuries that occur. Because of this close interaction, camp nurses are well placed to help spot and act on infections. They can also help educate the campers and staff of the importance of infection prevention and sepsis awareness.

Sepsis, which was often called blood poisoning, is the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

Suggested Citation:
Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Camp Nurses. 2023.

Updated November 22, 2023.


More Information

Pediatric Sepsis Rates

Sepsis affects more than 25 million children every year, representing over half of all sepsis cases worldwide. In the U.S., more than 75,000 infants and children develop severe sepsis and nearly 7,000 die.

This is more deaths than children who die from pediatric cancers. Many more children face the future with life-altering problems. These include amputations, organ dysfunction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and cognitive issues, to name a few. A study in 2013 showed that more than 1 in 3 children (34%) who survive severe sepsis are left with a change in cognitive skills that are still present 28 days following their discharge from the hospital.

Role of Camp Nurses

Although sepsis is the major cause of death within hospitals, up to 87% of sepsis cases originate in the community, which includes camps. Some of these infections could be:

  • Infected cuts and scrapes from the playground
  •  Pneumonia
  • Influenza
  • Meningitis
  • and more

Early and effective treatment reduces sepsis risk.

According to a study published in 2018, two-thirds of children in the U.S. who have severe sepsis also have an underlying chronic disease. Knowing this, professionals who work with students and campers who are compromised in any way can be aware of this increased risk. That said, although many children who are affected have an existing illness, many still have no predisposing factors for developing sepsis, yet they still get it – so awareness overall is paramount.

Sleep-away camps

Sleep-away camps also give children the opportunity to take part in activities they haven’t tried before. Outdoor activities like roasting marshmallows, kayaking, jumping in waterfalls, or rock climbing may all be new to them. Or they might be new to indoor activities, like wood working, cooking, or crafting. All these activities could cause injuries to the skin: burns, scrapes, cuts, or even blisters from walking in new shoes or hiking boots. However minor, all skin injuries are an opening for germs to enter the body and cause an infection, particularly in a camp environment that may not be as clean as at home. Take extra care to keep injuries as clean and uncontaminated as possible.

Educating camp staff

Hand washing

Washing your hands is the best defense against contracting infections, but too many people – children and adults – do not wash their hands as effectively or frequently as they should. Reminding staff about the importance of hand washing, as well as encouraging administration to make available waterless hand cleansers throughout the cabins and other buildings would likely increase compliance.

Remind campers about the importance of hand washing, and soap and water should be readily available. This simple step can help reduce the incidence of infection caused by bacterial infections, such MRSA, and viral infections, such as influenza. The summer months in North America aren’t usually associated with flu season, which tends to cover much of the school year, but the flu can be contracted year round. This infection prevention technique became even more important with COVID-19 spread around the world.

Recognizing signs of infections

Every person who works with children knows the types of injuries and illnesses that can occur. When camp counselors and other staff members are knowledgeable about basic signs and symptoms of infections, they can be the ones to draw attention to the situation.

Raising sepsis awareness in camps

Here are some ideas that may help raise sepsis awareness in camps:

Counselor and staff information sessions

Counselors and other camp staff are not nurses and are not expected to be. Arming them with sepsis knowledge could save lives though. The Sepsis 911 Information Kit, a program aimed towards the public, provides camp staff with a prepared presentation and a consistent message about what sepsis is, how it may be prevented, and how it is treated. The program is for the general public and has supporting materials for the presenters.

Skin Infections

Camp exposes children to unfamiliar elements and activities. Many children who rarely leave the city may have never seen poison ivy or poison oak. Touching these plants can leave uncomfortable rashes on the skin. While these rashes don’t cause sepsis, they are terribly itchy and uncomfortable, and can result in broken skin – which can develop a bacterial infection. They also may be bitten by bugs much more than they are at home. Scratching these bug bites can break open the skin, allowing for an infection.


Many camps have strict requirements about vaccinations, particularly for the counselors and staff. However, there are children who are unvaccinated for a variety of reasons. These include allergies to the vaccines or conditions that make vaccines dangerous for them. Preventable illnesses can lead to complications, including sepsis. For example, the HIB vaccine can largely prevent haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB). Unfortunately, it causes nearly 400,000 deaths per year in the US. Fifteen percent of children who contract invasive HIB disease and bacteremia are over the age of 5 years old. This means they may attend camp.

Meningitis affects children of all ages, but teens are at particular risk of contracting Neisseria meningitides, which may be prevented through a routine vaccine. The U.S. recommends meningitis vaccines for adolescents.

Of course, school-age children are also at risk of contracting the common childhood illnesses, such as pertussis and varicella. After a historic low in the number of pertussis cases reported in the US, 1,010 in 1976, numbers of cases started consistently rising in the early 1990s and have gotten as high as 48,277 in 2012. And a vaccine for chicken pox became available in the US in 1995. According to the CDC, varicella deaths declined by 87% during 2008 to 2011. “Now, chickenpox is rare in the United States, with fewer than 150,000 cases, 1,400 hospitalizations, and 30 deaths each year.”

Related Resources

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Fungal Infection

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Mateo Rodriguez-Limon

My son Mateo went septic a month before his 2nd birthday. He complained of a pain in his knee and after a 6 hour visit to our local hospital with no outcome we took him to to the children’s hospital. They discovered osteomyelitis in his tibia and within hours he was in full septic shock.He had contracted strep A with no clue how he was not sick and he didn’t have any open wounds. (Sepsis and Group A Streptococcus, Sepsis and Septic Shock) He spent the next 5 weeks in the PICU where they did multiple different treatments to save ... Read Full Story

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Promise Selepe

Blessing was only 6 months when she started being sick. She was irritated and crying nonstop. We went to a general practitioner and she said she was teething. We went home later that night. When I was changing her diaper, I noticed her right leg was swollen I thought it’s nothing serious. I thought it was swollen because of the measles vaccine she got. The following day I noticed she was getting worse so we decided to take her to the local clinic where they sent us to the local hospital. When we got the hospital, while waiting to the ... Read Full Story

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Ryan Lines

Ryan was a active, happy one year old perfect little boy. A month after his birthday Ryan woke up with a snotty nose. Throughout the day he still seemed his happy self. By that afternoon he was having slight temperatures and was starting to not be himself, he was very clingy and wimping, quiet dazed and also wouldn’t weight bear which he had been walking for a few months. We took him to the hospital to be released with that he probably had a virus and just teething. The next morning we noticed Ryan still wasn’t improving so went back ... Read Full Story

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Mason D.

At 5 weeks old Mason got pneumonia and then developed sepsis. He spent 3 weeks in Children’s Hospital requiring a blood transfusion, breathing tube, feeding tube, and a central line. He miraculously pulled through and was released on day 22. He is now 7 and thriving! (Sepsis and Pneumonia, Sepsis and Children) Read Full Story

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Wallace Ostrowski

Wallace was a bright, intelligent, beautiful little boy. A few days before his 2nd birthday he was a little under the weather. We took him to the doctor’s and he was diagnosed with an ear infection. He was prescribed antibiotics and he stayed home missing his birthday party (which was shared with his older brother). He finished his antibiotics, and was feeling much better. We enjoyed and Easter with family and fun. Wallace went back to playing with his friends at daycare and everything seemed normal. Until a week later, when we picked him up from daycare and he had ... Read Full Story

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Camp Nurses