Sepsis: What Parents Should Know


You may have heard of sepsis or septic shock. You may know someone who has had it or you may have read about it in the news. You may have heard it called “blood poisoning,” or not heard of it at all. Ara Festekjian, MD, one of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles’ esteemed Emergency Department doctors, says that knowing about sepsis, its early signs and symptoms and getting early treatment could help save someone’s life.

WHAT IS SEPSIS?Sepsis: What Parents Should Know

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition that results from your body’s response to infection. Chemicals are released in your body to fight the infection and they can cause inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation can be serious enough to cause your lungs, kidneys and other organs to stop working and, if it progresses far enough, and advances to septic shock, it can cause death.  In the last year and a half, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, has treated approximately 60 children in the Emergency Department with sepsis or septic shock. According to Dr. Festekjian, the hospital has treated five children with these diagnoses in the last month.

If your child has a temperature over 100.4 degrees, take them to the Emergency Room.


Sepsis can happen to anyone at any age, but some conditions can put your child at a higher risk:

  1. Any cancer condition, especially if recently treated with chemotherapy
  2. A child with a weakened immune system
  3. A child who has a condition requiring ongoing steroid treatment, such as asthma or a rheumatoid condition


The symptoms of sepsis can often be unclear, which can lead to a missed diagnosis. Here are some of the more common symptoms to watch for.  If your child shows these symptoms described below, go to an Emergency Department or doctor right away. Do not wait.

  1. A fever above 100.4 degrees and
  2. A previous injury like a fall or a scrape and you see the area is more red than usual.
  3. An overall feeling of tiredness and looks "out of it" in addition to
  4. Shortness of breath.
  5. A fast heart rate lasting over two hours that does not slow down even if the child is calm.
  6. If your child is urinating less frequently than usual (has fewer wet diapers).

Age                  Heart Rate (beats per minute

0-3 months              95-160    

4-11 months            85-150

1-4 years                 80-130

5-12 years               70-110

> 12 years               60-100              

* A heart rate count is the number of heart beats counted in one minute.


Early treatment is very important to treat sepsis successfully. It is also important to prevent sepsis from progressing to a more serious condition or even death.  In the Emergency Department, the doctor treats by:

  1. Giving the child lots of fluids through an IV.
  2. Giving antibiotics to treat the infection.
  3. If more serious conditions exist, the doctor will give medications to help raise low blood pressure.
  4. In severe conditions, the child may need to be on a ventilator or machine to help him/her breathe.
  5. In extreme cases, the child will be admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).

Dr. Festekjian wants parents to know that sepsis can happen to anyone. Sepsis can happen after a non-serious trauma, injury or infection. Delaying medical care can cause worsened long-term health issues, so early treatment is extremely important. It is important to know that a child with a fast heartbeat, that doesn’t slow down, needs to be taken to a doctor to be evaluated without delay, especially when it happens with one or more of the symptoms listed above.

Click here for more information on sepsis and newborns.

The First World Sepsis Day is September 13, 2012.

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