advice

sepsis:
spotting an infection complication

When your little one gets a cut finger, or a chest or ear infection, normally they're back on their feet again in no time. However, as with anyone – no matter how big or small – these things can sometimes lead to serious complications, like sepsis, that we parents need to know how to spot. Here is our short guide to recognising and reacting to sepsis in your little one.

what are the symptoms of sepsis?

There are a good few early warning signs to look out for. Firstly, check to see if their temperature isn't what it should be, whether that means it's high and around 38 and 39°C, or under 36°C and low. Other symptoms include breathing troubles and not peeing for 12 hours.


Babies under one month old might lose their appetite, while older children might not drink. If they're sick, their vomit might look black or have streaks of green bile in it. Their breathing might speed up and they'll be a bit dozy and hard to wake up. Look out for rashes that don't fade when pressed with a glass tumbler and check to see if their skin looks mottled and feels cold.


when should i ring the doctor?

For any of the above signs, it's best to ring the doctor, just to be sure. If they have a high (or low) temperature, bloody and bile-streaked vomit, trouble breathing and using the loo, it's best to call NHS 24. You should also phone NHS 24 if your baby becomes floppy, if older children become confused or irritable, if they lose interest in their surroundings, or if they've got a stiff neck.


For the more serious symptoms – if your little one is fitting, breathing rapidly, is acting lethargically, feels cold to the touch, has mottled skin or a non-fading rash – it's time to go straight to A&E.


what causes sepsis?

Sepsis usually starts with a bacterial infection. Although this infection could begin anywhere, the most common infections that lead to sepsis are urinary tract infections, lung infections, pelvic infections and tummy bugs. 


Normally our immune systems keep infections in one place, but because babies and young children are still developing, sometimes their immune systems can't quite handle them. This then means the bacteria spreads to the rest of the body.


how does the doctor diagnose sepsis?

Some of the symptoms are similar to meningitis – another nasty infection – so your doctor will need to rule that out first. Babies under three months old will usually have samples of their blood, urine, and spinal fluid taken. If your baby is older than that, the doctor will give them an examination before deciding if the tests are required.


These tests may sound serious, but they're all necessary to make sure they know exactly what's happening in your baby's body. The faster your doctor works, the better it is for baby.


how is sepsis cured?

If your child is diagnosed with sepsis, their doctor will immediately give them oxygen to help them breath, intravenous fluids to help balance the nutrients in their bloodstream, and antibiotics to fight off the nasty infections. If your baby is younger than three months, the doctor might do this before diagnosis to give them the best chance of recovery.