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Sepsis: Know the Signs. It Could Save Your Child’s Life

If you take one message away from this article, this is it: Every parent of a child with cancer or another serious disease must know the signs and symptoms of a sepsis infection.

These include:

  • Fever of 100.4ᵒF (38ᵒC) or higher
  • Chills or tremors
  • Rapid breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fast heart rate
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Cool, clammy, or flushed skin
  • Confused, sleepy or hard to wake
  • Acting irritable, fussy, or just "different"

Learn How to Take a Temperature.

Father taking temperature of daughter on couch while video calling doctor on tablet

Fever of 100.4 ˚ F is one sign of sepsis. It is important that parents know the signs and symptoms of sepsis.

If you see any of these symptoms, tell your child's care team right away. Why is this so important? Sepsis poses a high risk for severe illness. It also poses a high risk for death. These risks are especially high for children with cancer, blood diseases, and other serious illnesses.

Any disease, condition, or treatment that weakens a child’s immune system can put them at higher risk for sepsis. Children who are receiving chemotherapy or undergoing a transplant have a higher risk of all types of infection. When these children do get an infection, they are at higher risk of that infection leading to sepsis. Sepsis is one of the most dangerous ways the body can react to an infection.

Why sepsis is deadly

Sepsis happens when the body has an extreme reaction to an infection. It can cause poor blood flow to tissues and organs. If not treated right away, it can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, septic shock, and death.

  • In the U.S. 40,000 children are admitted to the hospital with sepsis each year. About 5,000 die.
  • Of those in the U.S. who survive, 25–40% have long-term health problems.
  • Worldwide, nearly half of the 49 million sepsis cases each year happen in children.
  • About 2.9 million children under age 5 die worldwide.

It is possible to prevent these deaths. How? By recognizing and treating the signs quickly.

The chance of death from sepsis increases by 8% for every hour treatment is delayed.

Treatments for sepsis include:

  • Antibiotics
  • IV fluids
  • Medicine to reduce fever
  • Medicine to bring blood pressure to a normal range
  • Oxygen by mask or tubes in the nose
  • Monitoring heart rhythms and vital signs

To diagnose sepsis, a doctor may test your child's blood, urine, spinal fluid, or a sample of a bowel movement. They may also use a chest x-ray.

If you see symptoms of sepsis, tell someone

As a parent or caregiver, you are the person closest to your child. You may be the first person to see the signs of an infection or sepsis. If your child shows any of the symptoms, tell a care team member right away.

Knowing the signs, telling your care team, and getting timely treatment for your child can prevent the worst outcomes. It could save your child's life.

For more information on sepsis, visit the Together by St. Jude ™ online resource.