As with adults, sepsis or blood infection in children is a life-threatening medical illness in which the body’s immune system begins to damage its own organs in order to combat infection. It can result from any infection as a body’s extreme response. Also known as blood poisoning or pediatric sepsis, it can occur at any age and inflict serious harm if left untreated. Read this post to know more about the symptoms of pediatric sepsis, its various causes, treatment and preventative measures.
Who Are At Risk Of sepsis?
Although it is rare, anyone can get sepsis, but adults over 65 years, children particularly infants, people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, and people with a weakened immune system are more prone to the infection (1).
Risks Of Sepsis In Children
If left untreated, sepsis can result in a drop in blood pressure, which can affect important organs like kidneys, lungs and brain. In severe cases, these organs may stop working and cause permanent damage to the patient.
Also, the recovery time could be long, and there might be several lasting effects that could have a significant impact on the child’s health and quality of life (2).
So, the parent or caretaker should look for any abnormal signs in the child and take them to the doctor in time, as timely treatment can reduce the extent of the damage.
Signs And Symptoms Of Sepsis In Children
The symptoms of sepsis are not distinct, which makes the diagnosis of the condition difficult. Babies and children with this condition usually do not display any worrisome symptoms, except a fever with temperatures going above 100.4oF. The fever may appear suddenly, and for no apparent reason.
There are three stages in sepsis, and the symptoms vary per stage. Let us look at each stage.
- Abnormal body temperature of more than 101.3°F (38.5°C) or low body temperature less than 96.8°F (36℃)
- Abnormal heart rate of more than 90 beats a minute
- Abnormal leukocyte count
- Suspected or proven infection (reports from a lab)(3)
These will occur after a few days of sepsis symptoms. Along with the symptoms of sepsis, there will be:
- Abnormal heart functions
- Acute respiratory distress
- Feeling dizzy
- Confusion and disorientation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Lesser than normal urine output
- Severe muscular pain
- Slurred speech
- Clammy, pale skin(4)
Along with the above two symptoms, septic shock also has the following symptoms.
- Decrease in BP
- Unexplained acidic urine
- Less urine
- Differences in core and peripheral temperatures
- Losing consciousness
- Shortness of breath (5)
Children with symptoms like nausea and vomiting, difficulty in passing urine, low activity level, etc., may not necessarily have sepsis. However, it is good to determine the underlying cause.
Causes Of Blood Infection In Children
Although bacteria are the most common cause for sepsis, viruses or fungi can also enter the bloodstream. A child may be prone to a blood infection in the following ways (6).
- Open wounds, abrasions or cuts left untreated for a long time can lead the bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus into the bloodstream, causing an infection in the bloodstream.
- Toddlers and babies who are not vaccinated are highly susceptible to infections of the blood.
- Neonatal sepsis can be passed from an infected mother to the baby. Sometimes, prolonged exposure in hospitals can result in blood infections.
- Children can also get sepsis due to urinary tract infection, pneumonia, ear infections, and sometimes, meningitis.
- Meningococcal bacteria can cause septicemia or meningococcal sepsis in babies, toddlers, and younger children.
- Poor nutrition and a weak immune system can also make a child vulnerable to blood infections.
Even if you are not sure about blood infection, take your child to the doctor immediately after you see the symptoms such as fever.
Diagnosing Blood Infection In Children
Symptoms of sepsis are subtle and are not distinct enough to diagnose a child with the condition. Doctors may recommend the following pathological tests and procedures to diagnose blood infections in children (7).
- Blood tests are often conducted to check for the presence of infection-causing bacteria. The doctor may recommend a complete blood count and blood oxygen level checkup.
- Doctors may also recommend testing the blood gases from the sample taken from your child’s wrist.
- Urine and stool tests.
- Tissue culture, taken from open wounds, can also be tested to detect infections.
- A spinal tap or lumbar puncture may be recommended to check for infection and signs of bleeding around the spinal cord or brain.
- In certain cases, a chest x-ray may be recommended to check for infection in the lungs, which is often the cause of blood infection in children.
In severe cases, advanced diagnostic procedures like CT scan, MRI, and echocardiography may be required.
Treating Blood Infection In Children
Initial treatment of blood infections involves the ,he Let us look at each stage: administration of antibiotics. If the child has a high fever and looks seriously ill, doctors may give injectable antibiotics to make them less vulnerable to the infection. In case the child has a fever but no signs of infection, they may be given antibiotics orally.
If the pathological test results are positive, the child is admitted and given intravenous antibiotics to fight the disease better. Children can recover quickly with antibiotics if the infection is in the initial stages and has not affected any organs.
Other treatment options such as fluid resuscitation, and administration of corticosteroids could also be considered (8).
Doctors also prescribe medications to treat the cause of the infection. If necessary, the patient may be put on oxygen.
Can You Prevent Blood Infection (Sepsis)?
Sepsis cannot always be prevented, as it can be a result of an infection in the body. The only way to avoid blood infections is to prevent the cause. Follow these tips to keep your child safe from a blood infection.
- Follow a thorough immunization schedule for your child.
- Clean any wounds, cuts or abrasions with antiseptics to prevent infections.
- Take your child to a doctor if you notice any symptoms of sepsis. Sepsis can be cured if detected early.
- Have your child checked for any skin infections and rashes. Infections of lung and sinus also lead to sepsis in children.
- Maintain hygiene and regularly clean your child’s hands with soap and water to prevent bacteria from going into the body.
- Keep your child away from people who have lung, sinus, or skin infections.
- Give your child a healthy and nutritious diet to boost his immune system, enabling it to fight the bacteria that can cause sepsis.
When To Call The Doctor?
Should you notice any of the above symptoms in your child, call a doctor for a checkup. The signs may or may not be of sepsis, but it is not wise to rule it out without proper medical examination. Visit a doctor if your child:
- Develops a fever suddenly
- Has coughing fits and coughs blood
- Has trouble breathing and his fingernails turn pale blue
- Has a seizure or passes out
- A weak high-pitched cry (9)
Although sepsis can occur in any child, chronic conditions may increase its risk. Hence, if your child has an increased risk of sepsis, look out for the symptoms. Treat childrens’ open wounds immediately to prevent the spread of infection. If your child has had a bacterial infection, consult a pediatrician and administer the medications to them as prescribed. Use an antiseptic to clean the wounds and maintain good hygiene around the house. You must also follow vaccination schedules to prevent the risk of sepsis in children.
2. Children who survive sepsis often experience lingering effects; AAP News and Journals
3. Adrienne G Randolph, and Russell J McCulloh; Pediatric sepsis; NCBI(2014)
4. Sepsis; NHS Inform
5. Septic shock; Medline Plus; US National Library of Medicine
6. Sepsis and Children; Sepsis Alliance
7. Rasha D. Sawaya; Pediatric Sepsis and Septic Shock; Relias Media
8. Tatsuya Kawasaki; Update on pediatric sepsis: a review; Journal of Intensive Care
9. Sepsis; National Health Service