What is Neonatal Sepsis
Neonatal sepsis is a serious illness that affects infants younger than 90 days old. For premature babies, the risk of developing neonatal sepsis is greater because of their undeveloped immune system.
Despite being a serious condition, neonatal sepsis can be treated, especially if it is detected early on. The sooner it can be detected, and the sooner treatment can start, the better the outcome would be.
It primarily affects a newborn’s blood, but it can also affect other body systems. A number of things can cause neonatal sepsis, but bacterial infection is the most common source of infection.
Parents should be especially wary of this illness, and it is important for them to know what signs to watch out for, and what they can do to prevent this from happening to their newborn.
Causes & Risk Factors
Neonatal sepsis can be caused by different types of bacteria, and it varies depending on where the baby got the infection.
Here are some of the possible causes:
Causes of neonatal sepsis
- Group B streptococcus
- Escherichia coli or E. coli
- Staphylococcus, which is also responsible for staph infection
- Haemophilus influenza
- Listeria monocytogenes
These bacteria can sometimes go up from the woman’s vagina up into the uterus and infect a newborn while still in the womb. It is also possible that as the baby is being born, bacteria can infect the baby as they pass through the vaginal canal. These situations are responsible for what’s known as early-onset sepsis.
Late-onset sepsis, on the other hand, occurs when the baby gets infected after being born. Adults who touch the baby or caregivers can sometimes infect babies especially if they have not washed their hands.
What Are the Risk Factors for Neonatal Sepsis?
Risk factors for sepsis include the following:
- Premature birth
- The amniotic sac breaks more than 18 hours before birth
- Strep infection or an infection of the amniotic fluid
- The baby undergoes a medical procedure
- Fetal distress
- Prolonged stay in the hospital (if the baby is sick or premature)
- Cross-infection by parents or hospital staff
These risk factors can greatly increase a newborn’s risk for sepsis, and it would be best for parents and caregivers to try and avoid these factors as much as possible.
Symptoms & Diagnosis
The symptoms of sepsis can be hard to identify, especially during the early stages. Additionally, the symptoms of sepsis can vary depending on what is causing the infection, and which part of the newborn’s body is infected.
However, here is a quick list of some common symptoms to watch out for:
- If the baby has a rapid heart rate during birth or delivery
- Sudden changes in temperature, such as a fever
- Difficulty breathing, or fast breathing
- The baby suffers from drowsiness or has trouble staying awake
- Digestive problems, such as a poor appetite or an enlarged liver
- Jaundice, or yellowish skin
- Loose stools
If your baby shows any of these symptoms of sepsis, it would be best to take them to the doctor immediately so that they can get tested.
How is Neonatal Sepsis Diagnosed?
Once in the hospital, doctors usually conduct a series of tests to check if it is indeed sepsis.
Here are some possible methods of diagnosis:
In order to find out if there is bacteria in the blood and to identify what type of bacteria it is, a blood culture is conducted.
In this process, a sample of blood will be taken from your baby, and it will be used in a bacterial culture to check for the presence of bacteria.
This process can take a few days, so in the meantime doctors will start on the main treatment for sepsis. Once the type of bacteria is identified, doctors can then proceed to treatment that will address that specific type of bacteria if necessary.
A blood test helps check for any signs of sepsis in the kidneys, liver, and blood cells. This helps doctors know where the sepsis is, and if any other organs are infected.
Just like a blood culture, a urine culture takes a urine sample and then it is used in a bacterial culture. This helps check for any bacteria that might be present in the urinary tract which can potentially be the cause of neonatal sepsis.
In a lumbar puncture, a sample of cerebrospinal fluid is taken from the spine using a needle. This tests for meningitis which is a possible complication of sepsis.
An x-ray can also be used to check the baby’s lungs to see if there are any signs of an infection.
Treatment & Prevention
Treatment for neonatal sepsis can vary depending on how old the baby is, their current state of health, and how severe their symptoms are.
If your doctor suspects that your child has sepsis, they will prescribe antibiotics first. This will help fight off any bacteria while the doctor waits for test results.
Once they get the results, the treatment can change to target specifically the bacteria that is causing the problem.
Newborns and premature babies are especially vulnerable to sepsis. When a doctor suspects that a newborn has sepsis, the newborn is usually taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Your baby will be watched very closely in the NICU, and will be provided antibiotics, medicine, fluids, food, and a respirator if it is needed. Treatment in the NICU is especially important since neonatal sepsis is life-threatening especially for newborns.
How Can Parents Prevent Neonatal Sepsis?
For the most part, sepsis can’t be prevented. This is especially true if the baby gets infected while in the womb, or during childbirth.
In these situations, the best thing to do would be to take your newborn to the doctor immediately.
In the case of sepsis occurring in the womb, doctors will usually prepare the NICU for the baby. This way, treatment can start as soon as possible, and the odds of survival can be improved.
Even if sepsis can’t be prevented, there are some things that parents can do to help lower the risk of sepsis in their newborn.
How to lower the risk of sepsis
- Before touching your newborn, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly to kill any germs and viruses that might be present.
- Keep your baby’s sleeping area clean, and be sure to wash their linens and clothing thoroughly.
- Be sure to warn visitors not to touch your newborn, or at the very least be sure to wash their hands before doing so.
- If you see any peculiar symptoms, be sure to get in touch with your child’s doctor immediately.
- Make sure to take your newborn to the doctor for regular checkups.
- Pregnant women should go to their regular checkups as this can help identify if they have any infections that can put the baby at risk of neonatal sepsis.
- Pregnant women should ideally give birth within 12-24 hours after their water breaks. This helps prevent any possible infection.
- It would also be a good idea for pregnant women to give birth in a clean, sterile location.
By following these tips, parents can help lower the risk of sepsis in their newborn.
When it comes to neonatal sepsis, parents should not worry too much. The important thing would be to get regular checkups, practice good hygiene, and be sure to take note of any peculiar symptoms in your newborn.
Learn more about Parenting and Babies here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.