Understanding and Treating Pediatric Sepsis

By: Tori Bowlin

April 11, 2023

Nurse and child patient sharing a moment

Sepsis is when a patient's body mounts an unregulated inflammatory response to an infection. While it is natural for the body to fight infection with a response from the immune system, sepsis occurs when the body's response is above and beyond what is normal. This is a potentially fatal condition. Dr. Julianne Wilke, Pediatrics and Critical Care Medicine, examines pediatric sepsis's causes, symptoms, and treatments and provides tips on preventing this potentially fatal condition.

Most Common Cause of Pediatric Sepsis

Pediatric sepsis is a particularly concerning form of sepsis that can occur in children and infants. Therefore, it is vital for parents and caregivers to be aware of the indications of pediatric sepsis and to understand the causes.

Bacterial infections are the most common cause of pediatric sepsis, accounting for over 80% of cases.

Common Bacterial Causes:
  • Staphylococcus infections (including Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureas - MRSA)
  • Streptococcal infections (including those causing pneumonia and group B strep)
  • Escherichia coli, or more commonly; E. coli
  • Klebsiella and Pseudomonas infections
Viral Infection Causes:
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Influenza
  • Parainfluenza
  • Adenovirus
  • Human metapneumovirus
  • Coronaviruses (including COVID-19)
Other Causes:
  • Fungal infections (but are relatively rare)
  • Parasites, such as Giardia lamblia

Pediatric Sepsis Symptoms

Parents and caregivers need to be observant of sepsis symptoms in children and can include:
  • Fever
  • Extremely fast heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Pale or discolored skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea & Vomiting
  • Decreased urination
  • Difficulty breathing

Use the acronym SEPSIS:

  • S – Slurred speech and confusion
  • E – Extreme shivering or muscle pain/fever
  • P – Passing no urine all day
  • S – Severe breathlessness
  • I – “I feel like I might die.”
  • S – Skin mottled or discolored

If any of these symptoms are present, seeking immediate medical attention is imperative.

Pediatric Sepsis Treatment

Early detection is a crucial factor in the successful treatment of pediatric sepsis. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can be lifesaving and generally involves antibiotics and other medications to reduce inflammation and support vital organs. In addition, electrolyte and fluid levels must be carefully monitored and maintained to prevent dehydration and shock. In some cases, your child may require oxygen therapy to ensure adequate oxygenation of the body.

Nutrition is important in pediatric sepsis treatment, as malnutrition can worsen the condition and increase the risk of complications. In addition, surgery may be necessary to remove any infected tissue or address any underlying medical conditions contributing to sepsis. Intensive care may be needed in severe cases to ensure vital organs function properly.

Follow your your doctor's instructions and watch for changes in the child's condition. Early detection and immediate treatment are the keys to successful pediatric sepsis treatment.

Sepsis Prevention

Vaccinating against illnesses that can lead to sepsis in children, such as influenza, pneumonia and meningitis, can help reduce the risk of contraction. In addition, parents should promote healthy habits such as proper hygiene and good nutrition to reduce the risk of sepsis, be aware of any signs and symptoms of sepsis in their children and seek immediate medical attention if they suspect their child has sepsis.

By increasing awareness, providing early and aggressive treatment, encouraging vaccinations, and promoting healthy habits, we can reduce the risks of pediatric sepsis and ensure the best outcome for our children.

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