All Children's Hospital Logo

Health Information

Search Health Information   


What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a term for severe infection that is present in the blood and spreads throughout the body. In newborns, it is also called sepsis neonatorum or neonatal septicemia.

What causes sepsis?

Sepsis can develop following infection by microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Infection in babies can be contracted during pregnancy, from the mother's genital tract during labor and delivery, or after birth from contact with others.

Sepsis in a newborn is more likely to develop when the mother has had pregnancy complications that increase the likelihood of infection. Such complications may include the following:

Babies can also develop sepsis by contracting infections after birth from infected persons or objects. Babies in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) are at increased risk for acquiring nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections. Many babies in the NICU are premature or have low birthweight which makes them more susceptible to infection and more likely to need invasive treatments and procedures. Microorganisms that normally live on the skin may cause infection if they enter the body through catheters and other tubes inserted into the baby's body.

What microorganisms cause severe infections and sepsis in babies?

Prenatal During Delivery After Birth
rubella (German measles) Group B streptococcus (GBS) respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
cytomegalovirus (CMV) E. coli Candida
varicella-zoster virus (chickenpox virus) herpes simplex virus Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
Listeria monocytogenes . enterovirus

Why is sepsis a concern?

Sepsis can be life threatening for newborns, especially if the baby has a weakened immune system because of prematurity or another illness. When a baby's immature immune system cannot fight the microorganism, the infection can quickly spread and overtake the body, causing serious illnesses such as meningitis or pneumonia.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

Sepsis in newborns is not always easy to identify since newborn babies often do not show symptoms of infections in the same way older babies and children may show symptoms. The following are some of the symptoms of infection in newborn babies. However, each baby may experience symptoms differently depending upon the type of organism causing the infection and the severity and location of the infection. Symptoms of infection may include the following:

How is sepsis diagnosed?

A sepsis workup may be needed to help identify the location of the infection and type of microorganism causing the infection. A sepsis workup may include the following procedures:

Procedures may also be performed to determine which antibiotics or medications are most effective for treating the specific microorganism.

Treatment of sepsis:

Specific treatment for sepsis will be determined by your baby's physician based on:

Early diagnosis and treatment of the infection are important in helping prevent sepsis from overwhelming a baby's body. However, cultures of blood and body fluids may take several days for the organism to grow and be identified. Because of this, babies who are at increased risk for sepsis, such as premature or low birthweight babies, may have preventive antibiotic treatment started as soon as cultures are taken. Most medications are given intravenously (IV).

Sepsis can be life threatening as the infection can affect several body systems at the same time. This can make providing treatment more difficult. Babies with sepsis will require care in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU), and may need antibiotics, other medications, and specialized treatment (such as a mechanical breathing machine). The healthcare team will be working to provide the best care to treat the infection and care for your baby.

Click here to view the
Online Resources of High-Risk Newborn

Additional Info

Pocket Doc Mobile App
Maps and Locations (Mobile)
Programs & Services
For Health Professionals
For Patients & Families
Contact Us
Find a Doctor

All Children's Hospital
501 6th Ave South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 898-7451
(800) 456-4543

Use Normal Template
© 2015 All Children's Hospital - All Rights Reserved