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Learning About Sepsis in Children

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a serious reaction to an infection. It causes inflammation across large areas of the body and can damage tissue and organs. Sepsis requires immediate care in a hospital. Septic shock is sepsis that causes extremely low blood pressure, which limits blood flow to the body. It can cause death.

What causes sepsis?

Most of the time, sepsis is caused by a bacterial infection.

Infections that can lead to sepsis include:

  • A skin infection such as from a cut.
  • A lung infection like pneumonia.
  • A urinary tract infection.
  • A gut infection such as E. coli.

Some infants, children with immune system problems, and those being treated for cancer may be more likely to get it.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of sepsis can include low blood pressure, breathing problems, fast heartbeat, and confusion. Infants may have a bulging soft spot, urinate less, show no interest in feeding, have changes in muscle tone, or lose skin colour. Your child may have a fever, low body temperature and chills, or cool and clammy skin.

How is sepsis treated?

Doctors will treat your child with antibiotics. They will try to find the infection that led to sepsis.

Machines will track your child's vital signs, including temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and pulse rate. Your child will get fluids through an I.V. Your child may also get strong medicine. This can help raise your child's blood pressure.

Children with sepsis might need to be treated in an intensive care unit (ICU) for several days or weeks. An ICU is a part of the hospital where very sick people get care.

Equipment in the ICU can support many body systems. These systems include breathing, circulation, fluids, and help for organs like the kidneys and heart. If your child needs help breathing, a ventilator may be used.

What else can you expect?

Your child may start new treatments while still in the hospital. Different doctors may help with different symptoms.

It's important to follow your doctor's advice to help your child avoid infections so that your child doesn't get sepsis again.

If your child needs to be treated in the intensive care unit (ICU), the ICU staff will do everything they can to treat all of the problems sepsis causes, including the infection. The ICU can be scary and confusing for patients and their families, friends, and supporters. But it's designed to keep your child comfortable and safe and to provide the best medical care.

You can expect a long recovery after your child leaves the ICU. If you need it, ask for support from friends and family.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

Where can you learn more?

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