Sepsis In Children: Causes, Symptoms And Prevention

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Sepsis or infection of blood is the leading cause of death in children around the world (1).

Blood infection is a condition that can affect anyone, at any time. However, children, especially newborns, are vulnerable to this disease, because of their low immunity levels. On the bright side, the cases of Sepsis in children are becoming rarer by the day, thanks to the new vaccines. However, how do you know if your child has sepsis? How do you know it is time to visit the doctor?

MomJunction tells you how you can identify the symptoms of sepsis, reasons for the problem and its treatment.

What Is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a condition where the immune system goes into overdrive when fighting an infection. The ‘anti-bodies’ come into play when the person’s bloodstream is infected by a virus, bacteria or disease-spreading microorganism. If undetected, blood infection in children can lead to the damage of important organs such as the kidneys, liver, bones or even the lungs.

Sepsis is sometimes referred to as blood poisoning, as the bacteria in the blood can disable a person and even lead to his death. Thankfully, such cases are rare in children. Also, the number of sepsis cases in children is dwindling.

[ Read: Information About Virus And Bacteria ]

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 100.4 degrees F. The fever may appear suddenly, and for no apparent reason.

In addition to fever, other symptoms of sepsis include:

  • Change in heart rate
  • Chills, sometimes seizures
  • Paleness of skin
  • Confusion, in some cases
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Babies may become listless and not be able to make eye contact

Children with other symptoms like nausea and vomiting, difficulty in passing urine, low activity level, etc., may not necessarily have sepsis. However, when these symptoms are present along with high fevers, they should be explored to determine the underlying cause.

Causes Of Blood Infection In Children

Although bacteria are the most common cause for blood infections, viruses or fungi can also enter the blood stream. Your kid can get a blood infection in the following ways.

  • Open wounds, abrasions or cuts left untreated for a long time can lead the bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus into the blood stream, 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 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 kids.
  • 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.

[ Read: Meningitis In Children ]

Diagnosing Blood Infections in Kids

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.

  • Blood tests are often conducted to check for the presence of infection-causing bacteria. The doctor may also 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 a CT scan, MRI, and echocardiography may be required.

[ Read: Child With Blood In Stool ]

Treating Blood Infections in Kids

Initial treatment of blood infections involves administration of antibiotics. In case the child has a high fever and looks seriously ill, doctors may give injectable antibiotics to make him less vulnerable to the infection. In case the child has a fever but no signs of infection, he 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.

Doctors also prescribe medications to treat the cause of the infection. If necessary, the patient may be put on oxygen. In severe cases, where the disease has damaged a particular organ, surgery may be required to repair the damage.

Risks Of Sepsis In Children

In the US alone, over 42,000 children get affected by blood infections every year and over 10% of them die. If left untreated, sepsis can result in a drastic drop in blood pressure, which can affect important organs like kidneys, lungs and brain. In severe cases, these organs can stop working and cause permanent damage to the patient.

[ Read: What Causes Low Blood Pressure In Children ]

How To Prevent Your Child From Blood Infection

Sepsis cannot always be prevented, as it can be a result of infection in the body. The only way to prevent blood infections is to prevent what causes them. Follow these tips to keep your child safe from 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 easily cured, if detected early.
  • Have your child checked for any skin infections and rashes. Infections of lung and sinus also lead to sepsis in kids.
  • 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 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
  • vomits blood

Remember that patients with sepsis can be cured with antibiotics only if the condition is detected and treated early. So make sure you watch out for the signs of sepsis in your child and seek medical attention without delay. Better yet, try to prevent the condition by following the above tips.

Share your views and experiences about how to help a child with blood infection.

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