Sepsis is a serious medical condition caused by the body's response to an infection. A person who has an infection and develops sepsis can have inflammation (swelling) throughout the body, leading to organ failure.

What causes sepsis?

Bacterial infections are the most common cause of sepsis. Sepsis can also be caused by infections by fungi, parasites, or viruses. The infection can be located in any of a number of places throughout the body.

How do newborns get sepsis?

Newborns can get sepsis in several different ways:

  • if the mother has an infection of the amniotic fluid (a condition known as chorioamnionitis)
  • premature birth (baby is born before his/her due date)
  • low birth weight of the infant
  • if the mother’s water breaks early (more than 18 hours before the baby is born)
  • if the baby is being treated for another condition while still in the hospital

What are some symptoms of infections in newborns?

Symptoms in the newborn include:

How is sepsis in newborns diagnosed?

Tests for sepsis in newborns can include:

  • blood tests
  • urine tests
  • spinal tap (also known as lumbar puncture) to test for meningitis. A spinal tap is a procedure in which a very small needle is inserted into the space around your child’s spine to withdraw spinal fluid to test for infections.

How is sepsis in newborns treated?

Treatments may include:

  • intravenous (IV, directly into a vein) fluids
  • IV antibiotics
  • medications for fever, if necessary
  • medications by mouth, depending on the cause
  • extra oxygen, if needed

When will my newborn be ready for discharge from the hospital?

Your newborn can be discharged when:

  • There is no bacterial infection found in the blood, urine, and/or spinal fluid. Also, there must be no herpes infection.
  • If a bacterial infection or a herpes infection is detected, your baby can go home when the antibiotic treatment is finished, usually 10 to 14 days.
  • The baby looks well.
  • The baby is able to feed well and is maintaining normal vital signs and adequate growth.

How should I follow up for my newborn after discharge?

After discharge, follow up with your pediatrician in 2 to 3 days to check for continued signs of recovery.

When should I call my health care provider?

Call your health care provider if your newborn:

  • is not feeding well;
  • becomes more irritable or lethargic (sleepy)
  • is breathing too fast or with difficulty
  • is breathing too slow, with pauses

Can sepsis be prevented in newborns?

To prevent infection in the baby, expectant women can be treated with IV antibiotics for several hours before delivery, if indicated by prenatal screens or clinical signs such as maternal fever or uterine tenderness. Your obstetrician will decide if you should be given antibiotics before delivery.


This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 2/12/2014…#15371

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