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Sepsis In Children


What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a serious condition that occurs when your child's body overreacts to an infection. It is also called systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) with infection. An infection is usually caused by bacteria that attack the body. The body's immune system normally fights off an infection within the affected body part. With sepsis, your child's body overreacts and causes symptoms to occur throughout the body. This leads to uncontrolled and widespread inflammation and clotting in small blood vessels. Blood flow to different body parts decreases and may lead to organ failure. Sepsis requires immediate treatment.

What causes sepsis?

Any kind of infection in the body can trigger sepsis. The following may put your child at a higher risk for sepsis:

  • Malnourishment (poor nutrition)
  • Premature birth (before 37 weeks) or birth more than 18 hours after the mother's bag of water broke
  • A weak immune system
  • Heart defects, urinary tract problems, large burns, or multiple injuries
  • Age less than 2 years, especially newborns
  • Hospital stays, especially in the intensive care unit (ICU) for a long time or after having a surgery
  • Medicines that decrease the body's ability to fight infections

What are the signs and symptoms of sepsis?

  • Fever, hypothermia (very low body temperature), or seizures
  • Eating, drinking, sucking poorly, or vomiting
  • Fast or slow heart rate
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Urinating very little or not at all
  • Weakness, irritability, drowsiness, and harder to wake than normal

How is sepsis diagnosed?

  • Blood gases: These tests are also called arterial blood gases (ABGs). Blood is taken from an artery usually in your child's wrist. ABGs may be done if your child has trouble breathing or other problems caused by his illness.
  • Blood tests: Your child may need blood tests to give caregivers information about how his body is working. The blood may be taken from your child's arm, hand, finger, foot, heel, or IV.
  • Urine sample: A sample of your child's urine is collected and tested for infection.
  • Culture: This is a test to grow and identify the germ that is causing your child's sepsis. A culture may be done using your child's blood, urine, or brain and spinal cord fluid. Samples may also be taken from wounds or sores. This test helps healthcare providers know what kind of infection your child has and the best medicine to treat it.
  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your child's lungs and heart. A chest x-ray may be used to check your child's heart, lungs, and chest wall. It can help caregivers diagnose your child's symptoms, or suggest or monitor treatment for medical conditions.
  • Lumbar puncture: This procedure may also be called a spinal tap. A small needle is placed into your child's lower back. Fluid will be removed from around your child's spinal cord and sent to the lab for tests. The test is done to check for bleeding around your child's brain and spinal cord, and for infection. This procedure may also be done to take pressure off your child's brain and spinal cord, or to give medicine. Your child may need to be held in place so that he does not move during the procedure.

How is sepsis treated?

Treatment of sepsis is often done in an intensive care or critical care unit of a hospital. Antibiotics may be given to treat your child's infection, even before a diagnosis is made. Your child's healthcare provider may choose a different antibiotic based on his test results. Some medicines may be given to relieve your child's signs and symptoms and treat or control other problems. Supportive measures, including IV fluids, nutritional therapy, and respirators, may also be needed.

What are the risks of sepsis in children?

If left untreated, sepsis may cause your child's blood pressure to drop to very dangerous levels. His kidneys, lungs, brain, and other organs may be affected and later stop working. These problems can be life-threatening.

How can infections be prevented?

The following are ways that you can help prevent infection, which can lead to sepsis:

  • Have your child checked by his healthcare provider if he often gets lung, sinus, or skin infections. This may help prevent more serious problems.
  • Have your child vaccinated against different infections caused by viruses or bacteria, such as the flu virus.
  • Keep your child away from people with infections, such as those with a cough and colds.
  • Wash your child's hands and your hands often with soap and water.
  • If your child has a weak immune system, ask his healthcare provider if there are other things you can to help prevent infection.

Where can I find more information?

  • Sepsis Alliance
    610 West Azeele Street,
    Tampa , FL 33606
    Phone: 1- 813 - 874-2552
    Web Address:

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child's skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your child is coughing hard or coughing up blood.
  • Your child has a high-pitched cry.
  • Your child has trouble breathing, or his lips and fingernails are pale or turning blue.
  • Your child is not able to eat, suck, or drink, or is urinating less or not at all.
  • Your child looks very tired or weak, or he is more fussy or sleeping more than usual.
  • Your child passes out or has a seizure.
  • Your child's bowel movement or vomit has blood in it.
  • Your child's symptoms do not improve or get worse.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.