How To Recognise Sepsis In Children Under Five and What Action To Take

25 January 2017
 Categories: , Blog


Sepsis is a surprisingly common condition that can affect many organs in the body and can also cause blood poisoning. If overlooked and left untreated, sepsis can prove fatal, especially in children. Sepsis is usually caused by bacterial infections, although it can also be triggered by viral or fungal infections.

So, what warning signs should you be aware of and what should you do if you think your child under five has sepsis?

Symptoms of sepsis in children under five

Kids under five years of age are not usually able to verbalise the symptoms of sepsis so it's important that you are aware of what to look for. The following are all signs that your child may have developed serious sepsis:

  • lethargy or unable to wake up
  • breathing rapidly or appearing to struggle to breathe normally
  • feeling cold to the touch
  • skin appears bluish or mottled
  • develops a rash that won't fade when pressure is applied to it
  • suffers a convulsion or seizure
  • can't say more than one or two words at once
  • irritable or confused, whinging and whining continually

If your child presents any combination of the above symptoms, you should seek medical attention as a matter of urgency. Call an ambulance or take your child straight to A&E.

Signs of sepsis in babies

Diagnosing sepsis in babies can be particularly challenging. Look out for the following:

  • a temperature of over 390C
  • a very low temperature of under 360C
  • struggling to breathe with obvious pauses or grunting noises on each breath
  • not had a wet nappy for over 12 hours
  • shows no interest in feeding or drinking
  • vomits green bile or bloody/black vomit
  • sunken eyes
  • bulging soft spot on the baby's head
  • baby is floppy and unable to hold its head up

If you baby shows a combination of these signs, go straight to A&E as an emergency. Call an ambulance if necessary.

Treatment of sepsis and prognosis

Provided the condition is diagnosed early, the vital organs should be unaffected. The child can recover at home on antibiotics and should make a full recovery.

In severe cases where the sepsis has gone undiagnosed, the child will require admission to hospital, possibly to intensive care until their condition has been stabilised. In very severe cases, organ failure can occur and death could result.

In conclusion

If you suspect that your child or baby may be showing early signs of sepsis, seek urgent medical advice from your doctor. If the condition is diagnosed quickly, your youngster will have a much better chance of making a full recovery.