Neonatal sepsis is a bacterial infection in the blood. It is found in infants during the first month of life. This may become a serious condition. If you suspect your infant has this condition, contact your doctor right away.
Early onset sepsis develops in the first 2-3 days after birth. Late onset sepsis develops within 3-7 days after birth.
Neonatal sepsis is caused by bacteria. The infant may come in contact with bacteria during pregnancy, birth, or from the environment after birth.
Early onset sepsis is caused by an infection from the mother. It may pass to the infant from the placenta or birth canal during birth. Antibiotics may be given to high risk mothers, during labor. They have been able to prevent early onset bacterial sepsis in some infants.
Late onset sepsis is caused by bacteria from the caregiving environment.
The following factors increase your infant’s chance of developing neonatal sepsis:
Pregnancy conditions or mother's health issues that increase your infant's chance of sepsis include:
In most cases of early onset sepsis, symptoms are present within 24 hours of birth. In almost all cases, symptoms will be present within 48 hours of birth. If your infant has any one of these symptoms, especially in first week, contact your doctor.
It is important for your doctor to evaluate any fever in your infant.
Your doctor will ask about your infant’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Tests may include the following:
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your infant. Treatment depends on how severe the condition is. If sepsis is suspected, your infant will be hospitalized while you wait for test results.
Treatment may last 2-21 days. A well-appearing infant may be monitored without antibiotics. Your infant will be sent home when tests show there are no bacteria. Sepsis that is confirmed with a culture test is treated for 7-21 days. Treatment will depend on the location of the infection. Treatment options include antibiotics and support care like oxygen or IV fluids.
Antibiotic medicine may have to be given directly into the vein (IV).
IV fluids will help support your infant until the infection clears. It may include fluids, glucose, and electrolytes.
Your infant may need oxygen therapy. In more severe cases, a ventilator may be used to support breathing.
To reduce your infant’s chance of getting neonatal sepsis, your doctor may take the following steps:
Auckland (New Zealand) District Health Board
Minnesota Department of Health
Kleigman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics . 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2004.
Neonatal sepsis. EBSCO DynaMed Summary. Available at: http://dynamed101.ebscohost.com/Detail.aspx?id=116619 . Updated May 4, 2012. Accessed July 18, 2012.
Neonatal Sepsis. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy website.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Michael Woods