Sepsis is more uncommon in children than in adults. Very premature newborns can get sepsis. Sepsis has become less common in children since most are now vaccinated against Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) and pneumococci through the public health vaccine program for children.
In children, sepsis can develop for example in association with meningitis. But it can also develop as a consequence of other types of infections. If your child, for example, has had chickenpox and at the same time has contracted streptococci, bacteria can find their way into the body through wounds that the chickenpox blisters cause on the skin. It is therefore not the chickenpox in itself causing the sepsis but instead another bacterial infection.
Here are signs and symptoms which can indicate sepsis and/or meningitis in children:
- You experience that your child is very ill and affected.
- The child has a fever.
- The child is tired and does not respond to contact as usual.
- The child is cranky and irritated.
- The child breathes fast and labored.
- The child barely drinks or breastfeeds or not at all.
- The child has a pale grey skin tone.
- The child has cold hands and feet.
- The child experiences pain in the arms, legs, or the tummy.
- The child vomits or has diarrhea.
- The child has bleeding under the skin. This is a rash that does not fade when you press.
- The child has a headache and stiff neck. He or she has difficulties bending the head forward.
The more symptoms and signs the child has the higher risk of sepsis. Sometimes the child can have sepsis without having a fever.
Fever is always a serious sign in children that are younger than one month and can be serious in children between one and six months of age and can sometimes be caused by sepsis.
Noticeable pain should be treated, but treatment of fever alone does not make the child well. The child can have sepsis even if he or she temporarily becomes more alert after fever or pain relief treatment.
Examination and treatment
The treatment that the child gets for sepsis is the same as for an adult. Children who get sepsis are examined in the same way as adults but sometimes the child may also receive a lumbar puncture test. The reason is that children can get sepsis in conjunction with meningitis.