World Sepsis Day: How parents recognize sepsis in children

World Sepsis Day 2022
Important for all parents: How to recognize sepsis in children

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Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction of the body to serious infections. Newborns, babies and young children belong to the risk group. The insidious thing is that sepsis is sometimes hard to recognize, even for pediatricians. It is all the more important that the parents also know the most important symptoms.

Fever, cough, runny nose & Co: Infections are simply a part of young children, especially in the autumn and winter months. Annoying but necessary train the untrained immune system and build good immune protection for life – and usually not dangerous.

What happens with sepsis?

In rare cases, however, sepsis can also occur blood poisoning called. It develops when one’s own defenses fail to keep an infection at bay and the pathogens, often bacteria, enter the bloodstream.
The body reacts with a kind of emergency programthrough which not only the pathogens but also organs such as lungs, heart and kidneys are damaged or even fail completely.

How can parents recognize sepsis?

The insidiousness of sepsis: At first, it is almost indistinguishable from the usual infections, especially in newborns, babies and young children because of their flu-like symptoms.

Here are the main symptoms, which are the same in children and adults:

  • Fever (may or may not occur)
  • confusion or disorientation
  • Personality change (the person is completely different from normal)
  • rapid pulse to palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • accelerated breathing (more than 22 breaths/minute)
  • moist/cold or blotchy skin
  • feeling extremely ill (adults describe this as “deathly sick” or say they have “never felt so sick”)

Signs of sepsis in newborns are not so specific and therefore more difficult to recognize:

  • The newborn feels abnormally cold and feverish.
  • It’s breathing heavily.
  • Have repeated vomiting and/or diarrhea.
  • It seems unusually slow in its movements and reactions.
  • It won’t drink.
  • It has seizures.

What should parents do if they suspect their child may be affected?

Even if only two of these sepsis symptoms are present: always call the emergency number (112) and describe the child’s condition. If it is indeed a sepsis, then there it is extreme urgency and danger to life. Because the earlier the necessary antibiotic treatment can be started, the lower the risk of secondary damage remaining. If the person in charge reacts rather dismissively to the 911 call, it is best to ask them yourself, “Could it be sepsis?”

How can parents protect their child?

There is no direct protection against sepsis because sepsis can result from a wide variety of infections. The best protection is to prevent serious infections. The best way to do this is through consistent vaccination according to STIKO recommendations.
In consultation with the respective paediatrician, it may also be sensible to consider additional vaccinations. An infection with meningococci, for example, can typically lead to sepsis in addition to meningitis (meningitis), but the STIKO recommendations so far only recommend vaccination against meningococci, strain C for children without previous illness. However, there are also vaccinations against other meningococcal strains, some of the costs of which are now also covered by health insurance for healthy children.

More information about sepsis:

Germany recognizes sepsis: signs of sepsis in children and adults Vaccination recommendations for children (0 – 12 years)

Robert Koch Institute: Sepsis


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