If you’re a parent, you’ve heard about measles, chickenpox and strep – but you may not have heard about sepsis.
Approximately 72,000 children in the United States are hospitalized each year with sepsis.
“Sepsis is the body’s response to an infection that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death,” said Marvin Mata, M.D., pediatric intensivist at Rapides Women’s and Children’s Hospital. “You often hear of sepsis as it occurs in elderly patients, but it can also strike the very young.”
Nationwide, 200 children develop sepsis each day – and the mortality rate in children is 10 percent. Rapides Regional Medical Center sees 700 cases of adult and pediatric sepsis each year, and 80 percent of those cases are diagnosed in the emergency room.
The condition is diagnosed by measuring the patient’s temperature – either a fever or a low temp – heart rate, respiratory rate, presence of infection, metabolic abnormalities and as it progresses, organ dysfunction affecting the lungs, brain and kidneys.
“Children diagnosed with sepsis often have additional medical issues such as chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease,” Dr. Mata said. “But it can also occur with skin infections, pneumonia or urinary tract infections.”
Parents may wonder how to tell the difference between a child being “sick” and a child being “septic.”
Dr. Mata explains that parents should look for fast heart rate, fast breathing, cold, clammy skin, extreme discomfort or pain, vomiting and any behavior that would point to changes in the child’s mental status, such as confusion, dizziness or disorientation. If your child stops eating, that is also a red flag.
“Sepsis is an emergency situation,” Dr. Mata said. “This is a condition that needs to be treated right away.”
Studies show that every hour delay in sepsis treatment equals a 7 to 8 percent increase in mortality.
Once identified, sepsis is treated with IV fluids, antibiotics and testing for specific bacteria and viruses. (Though bacterial infections are the most common cause, some cases of sepsis have a viral cause.)
In 2013, government agencies began putting specific sepsis treatment protocols in place and those protocols have been regularly improved and updated.
“The treatments are always changing and there is always new research,” Dr. Mata said. “The most important thing parents should remember is that if their child exhibits symptoms of sepsis, their child needs immediate medical care. Sepsis is an emergency.”