Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening medical condition that occurs when the immune system responds abnormally to an infection and begins to attack the healthy cells and tissues in the body. Sepsis can affect anyone with a weakened immune system. When this blood condition affects babies, it is known as neonatal sepsis.

Neonatal sepsis is divided into two categories, based on the time of presentation after birth:

  • Early-onset sepsis- (EOS): Before 3 days of life
  • Late-onset sepsis (LOS): After 3 days or more of life

Due to their immature immune system, preterm infants are much more likely to develop both early-onset and late-onset sepsis than full-term infants. Premature newborns lack certain protective antibodies against specific bacteria because they were born before their mothers could provide them.

Neonatal sepsis is potentially fatal to the baby’s health if left untreated. If the symptoms of sepsis are suspected in a baby, the parents should take the baby to a doctor right away for a prompt diagnosis. Treatment is frequently initiated right away to ensure that the baby’s condition does not deteriorate.

In this article, we will go over some of the causes and symptoms of sepsis, as well as how doctors diagnose and treat it.

What Causes Sepsis in Newborns?

Primary sepsis is usually caused by a bacterial infection, but in rare cases, it can also be caused by a viral or fungal infection. It is almost always passed down from the pregnant mother to the baby, but it can (less frequently) be picked up from the immediate environment.

A doctor will perform diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the sepsis. Knowing the cause is essential for providing effective treatment.

Doctors may use the following diagnostic tests to rule out underlying infections:

·         Urine examinations

·         Blood examinations

·         Spinal fluid examinations

In some cases, doctors may perform medical imaging tests to check for organ and tissue damage. These are some examples of such tests:

·         Ultrasound scans

·         X-rays

·         MRI examinations

Symptoms to Watch Out for Sepsis in Newborns

Neonatal sepsis can cause a variety of symptoms, depending on the type and severity of the infection. The most telling signs that the newborn is sick include:

·         Reduced appetite and unwillingness to feed

·         Not drinking anything for more than 8 hours

·         Tendency to vomit after eating

·         Increased body temperature, greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit

·         Irritability and crankiness

·         Sluggish movements

·        Changed heart rate (higher and lower rates are possible depending on the infection stage)

·         Difficulty breathing

·         Pale and patchy skin

·         Lethargic movements

·         Yellowish eyes and skin

·         Not passing urine for more than 12 hours.

·         Swelling in the stomach area

·         A drop in blood pressure.

·         Reduced blood platelet count

If you notice more than two of these symptoms, act fast by taking the baby to a health care provider for confirmation and treatment. Sepsis is a rapidly progressing condition, and delaying treatment may result in serious complications like meningitis (infection of the membranes surrounding the brain), and even death.

Diagnosis of Sepsis in Newborns

The symptoms and the presence of bacteria, viruses, or fungi in the blood, urine, or spinal fluid are used to make the diagnosis.

Treatment of Neonatal Sepsis

The treatment focuses on combating and flushing out the infection from the newborn baby’s body. This is accomplished by administering intravenous (IV) fluid laced with antibiotic medication. As a preventive measure, the procedure is frequently performed before the diagnostic test results are known. Once the tests are completed and the cause of the infection is determined, targeted medication is administered.

If the infection is viral, an antiviral medication is prescribed. During the diagnosis and testing process, the baby may need to be admitted to the hospital. They may be allowed to return home once the baby starts responding to medication and starts recovering. The newborn must still be brought into the hospital.

Final Thoughts

Severe complications may arise more quickly in babies with a compromised immune system or a chronic health condition. Regardless of their overall health, all babies should receive immediate treatment. 

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