Sepsis in childrenSepsis in children: Know the signs.

Sepsis is the presence of harmful bacteria and their toxins in body tissues. Sepsis is a life-threatening illness caused by your body’s response to an infection, usually caused by a wound, pneumonia, an abdominal infection, a kidney infection or a bloodstream infection.
When a child or adult has an infection, the body’s immune system kicks into gear to fight it off. When faced with a viral infection (like a cold or flu) or a bacterial infection (like strep), a child may experience symptoms like fever, sore throat, body aches and headache. Those symptoms are usually manageable and a healthy immune response ensures the child will recover fully within a few days. But sometimes, this immune overreaction can cause inflammation, blood flow problems, low blood pressure, trouble breathing and vital organ failure. Severe cases of sepsis can lead to septic shock, which is a medical emergency.

Sepsis is most common in children:

  • Newborns and infants under 3 months of age whose immature immune systems can’t fight off overwhelming infections;
  • Not vaccinated for the two bacteria that most commonly causes sepsis: Streptococcus pneumonia (also called pneumococcus) and Haemophilus influenza;
  • With chronic medical conditions or other conditions that weaken the immune system;
  • Left untreated after developing an infection.

What are the symptoms of sepsis in a child?

Newborns or infants with sepsis can show the following symptoms:

  • Bulging soft spot
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Decreased urination
  • Difficulty waking from sleep
  • Disinterest in or difficulty feeding
  • Fever (rectal temperature) of 100.4 degrees or greater
  • Inability or unwillingness to make eye contact
  • Irritability or inconsolable crying
  • Jaundice (yellowish skin and/or eyes)
  • Lethargy
  • Pauses in breathing for more than 10 seconds (apnea)
  • Rash
  • Sickly appearance
  • Skin colour changes (pale, patchy, bluish)
  • Trouble breathing or rapid breathing

Symptoms of sepsis in babies older than 3 months and children may include:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty waking from sleep
  • Existing infection (like pneumonia) with symptoms that are getting worse instead of better
  • Fever of 102 degrees or greater
  • Inability or unwillingness to make eye contact
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Racing heart
  • Rash
  • Skin colour changes
  • Trouble breathing

How is sepsis in children diagnosed?

If your child’s doctor suspects sepsis or wants to rule out a severe infection, he or she may order:

  • Blood tests: By examining a sample of blood, your child’s doctor can look for infection, abnormal liver or kidney function or poor oxygen levels, which could indicate sepsis.
  • Urine tests: By examining a sample of urine, your child’s doctor can look for bacteria that could indicate sepsis.
  • Lumbar puncture: By examining a sample of spinal fluid, your child’s doctor can check for infection, including meningitis.
  • X-rays: X-rays can show pneumonia or other conditions that can cause sepsis.

The doctor may start your child on antibiotics right away, even before these tests come back. If your child has sepsis, he or she will need to be treated in the hospital with antibiotics and IV fluids as well as blood pressure medication and equipment to help the child breathe, in some cases. Early treatment is critical to prevent organ damage.

If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, call your Family’s doctor immediately. Infants with a high fever – or any child with severe symptoms – may require emergency medical attention.

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