Sepsis is the number one killer of children and infants worldwide. In the United States, 42,000 children develop sepsis each year resulting in 4,400 deaths.
In newborns and young infants, bacterial infections are almost always the cause of sepsis. Common infections such as e-coli infection, meningitis, pneumonia, Group B Streptococcus (GBS) infection, and salmonella poisoning can all lead to sepsis in infants. Infections can be passed from mother to child during pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
1. Unvaccinated babies and children are the most susceptible to infections, particularly between the ages of 2 months and 36 months when the immune system is not yet fully developed.
2. Infants in pediatric ICU and premature babies receiving neonatal intensive care are particularly at risk because their immune systems are underdeveloped or compromised. The entry point for tubes such as catheters and intravenous (IV) lines can provide a path for bacteria, some of which normally live on the skin’s surface, to get inside the baby’s body and cause an infection.
3. Certain complications in pregnancy, labor and delivery can result in bacteria entering the baby’s body from the mother and increase the risk for sepsis in newborns.
Sepsis in newborns can produce a variety of symptoms. Often, these babies “just don’t look right” to their caretakers.
Symptoms of sepsis in newborns and young babies include:
Older infants and children who have sepsis might have:
A child with sepsis may have started with an infection such as cellulitis or pneumonia that seems to be spreading or getting worse.
Sepsis must be treated in the hospital, usually through antibiotics transmitted intravenously. If sepsis is suspected, doctors may start administering antibiotics immediately, before the diagnosis is confirmed. This is because time is a crucial factor in ensuring a positive outcome from sepsis. If necessary, babies may also receive IV fluids to keep them hydrated, blood pressure medication to keep their hearts working properly, and respirators to help them breathe.
Laboratory tests play a crucial role in confirming or ruling out sepsis in infants. These include:
While sepsis cannot be prevented entirely, likelihood of developing sepsis is reduced by:
If your infant is less than 3 months old, has a rectal temperature of 100.4°F (38°C), seems lethargic, irritable, uninterested in eating, having difficulty breathing or appears ill, take your baby to see a doctor immediately.
In older babies and children, call your doctor immediately if your child exhibits symptoms including fever, irritability, difficulty breathing, and lethargy. A child may also seem irritable, confused, have trouble breathing, have a rash, appear ill, or may complain that his or her heart feels like it’s racing.