Recognizing sepsis in children

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Dr. Mehta

While sepsis can affect anyone, it tends to occur more often in the elderly, or the very young. But people – and children – of all ages are susceptible to this very serious condition.

More than 75,000 children in the U.S. develop severe sepsis each year, with nearly 7,000 who don’t survive.  It’s extremely important to be aware of sepsis and know how to recognize it in kids.

If you’re wondering what sepsis is – you’re not alone. About 45 percent of Americans are not aware of the disease, according to the Sepsis Alliance.

So, what is sepsis?

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is life-threatening, and without treatment can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death. Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, including pneumonia, the flu or a urinary tract infection. It can also occur from an infected cut or scrape. Bacteria is common our skin – but when it gets into an open wound, it can cause serious problems.

How do I recognize sepsis in children?

First, it’s important to remember there is no one sign of sepsis in children. If your child is unwell and has a fever OR a very low temperature, it could be sepsis. Time is critical. If your child has a general illness or previous injury such as a scrape or cut, and has any of the following symptoms, call 9-1-1 or get to an emergency room immediately:

  • Feels abnormally cold to touch
  • Skin is discolored, bluish or very pale
  • A rash that doesn’t fade when you press it
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Very rapid heartbeat
  • Experiences convulsions
  • Lethargic or difficult to wake up

In addition, if a child is under the age of 5 years and is not eating, is vomiting repeatedly and has not urinated in 12 hours, seek medical attention right away.  Be sure to tell your provider that you are concerned about sepsis.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to prevent sepsis in children. Many illnesses that may lead to infection and sepsis can be prevented through regular childhood vaccinations. Hand-washing is another very simple of way of preventing infection. Encourage your child to practice proper hand hygiene – washing hands regularly with soap and water or a soapless product can help prevent bacteria from entering the system. Finally, proper wound care and cleaning – even for the smallest cut or scrape – can go a long way.


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