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Alternative NamesSepsis neonatorum; Neonatal septicemia; Sepsis - infant
Definition Return to top
Neonatal sepsis is a blood infection that occurs in an infant younger than 90 days old. Early-onset sepsis is seen in the first week of life. Late-onset sepsis occurs between days 8 and 89.
Causes Return to top
A number of different bacteria, including Escherichia coli (E.coli), Listeria, and certain strains of streptococcus, may cause neonatal sepsis.
Early-onset neonatal sepsis most often appears within 24 hours of birth. The baby gets the infection from the mother before or during delivery. The following increases an infant's risk of early-onset sepsis:
Babies with late-onset neonatal sepsis get infected after delivery. The following increase an infant's risk of sepsis after delivery:
Symptoms Return to top
Infants with neonatal sepsis may have the following symptoms:
Exams and Tests Return to top
Laboratory tests can help diagnose neonatal sepsis and identify the bacteria that is causing the infection. Blood tests may include:
A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) will be done to examine the cerebrospinal fluid for bacteria.
If the baby has a cough or problems breathing, a chest x-ray will be taken.
Urine culture tests are done in babies older than several days.
Treatment Return to top
Babies in the hospital and those younger than 4 weeks old are started on antibiotics before lab results are back. (Lab results may take 24-72 hours.) This practice has saved many lives.
Older babies may not be given antibiotics if all lab results are within normal limits. Instead, the child may be followed closely on an outpatient basis.
Babies who do require treatment will be admitted to the hospital for monitoring.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
With prompt treatment, many babies with these bacterial infections will recover completely with no remaining problems. Nevertheless, neonatal sepsis is a leading cause of infant death. The more quickly an infant receives treatment, the better the outcome.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Seek immediate medical help if your infant shows symptoms of neonatal sepsis.
Prevention Return to top
Preventative antibiotics may be given to pregnant women who have a Group B Streptococcus infection or who have previously given birth to an infant with sepsis due to the bacteria.
Preventing and treating infections in mothers, providing a clean birth environment, and delivering the baby within 24 hours of rupture of membranes, where possible, can all help lower the chance of neonatal sepsis.
References Return to top
Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 6th ed. London: Churchill Livingstone; 2005.
Schrag S, Gorwitz R, Fultz-Butts K, Schuchat A. Prevention of perinatal group B streptococcal disease. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 51(RR-11): 1–22, 2002.
Schrag S. Prevention of neonatal sepsis. Clin Perinatol. Sept 2005; 32(3): 601-15.Update Date: 6/1/2009 Updated by: Daniel Rauch, MD, FAAP, Director, Pediatric Hospitalist Program, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, NYU School of Medicine, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. Previously reviewed by Alan Greene, MD, FAAP, Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.