by Julie Rackliffe Lucey, MS
Neonatal sepsis is a bacterial infection in the blood. It is found in infants during the first month of life. This may become a serious condition. If you suspect your infant has this condition, contact your baby's doctor right away.
Early-onset sepsis develops in the first 2-3 days after birth. Late-onset sepsis develops within 3-7 days after birth.
Neonatal sepsis is caused by bacteria. The infant may come in contact with bacteria during pregnancy, birth, or from the environment after birth.
Early-onset sepsis is caused by an infection from the mother. It may pass to the infant from the placenta or birth canal during birth. Antibiotics may be given to high risk mothers during labor. This may prevent early-onset bacterial sepsis in some infants.
Late-onset sepsis is caused by bacteria from the healthcare environment.
Infant boys have a higher risk for neonatal sepsis. Other factors that may increase your infant’s chance of neonatal sepsis include:
Pregnancy conditions or mother's health issues that increase your infant's chance of neonatal sepsis include:
In most cases of early-onset sepsis, symptoms are present within 24 hours of birth. In almost all cases, symptoms will be present within 48 hours of birth. If your infant has any one of these symptoms, especially in first week, contact your doctor.
It is important for your doctor to evaluate any fever in your infant.
You will be asked about your infant’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your baby's bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your baby's chest and/or abdomen. This can be done with x-rays.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your infant. Treatment depends on how severe the condition is. If sepsis is suspected, your infant will be hospitalized while you wait for test results.
Treatment may last 2-21 days. Mild symptoms may be monitored without antibiotics. Your infant will be sent home when tests show there are no bacteria. Sepsis that is confirmed with a culture test is treated for 7-21 days. Treatment will depend on the location of the infection and may include:
Antibiotics may have to be given through an IV.
IV fluids will help support your infant until the infection clears. It may include fluids, glucose, and electrolytes.
Your infant may need oxygen therapy. In more severe cases, a ventilator may be used to support breathing.
To reduce your infant’s chance of getting neonatal sepsis, your doctor may take the following steps:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Sick Kids—The Hospital for Sick Children
Early-onset neonatal sepsis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated August 11, 2016. Accessed September 26, 2016.
Late-onset neonatal sepsis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed... . Updated August 11, 2016. Accessed September 26, 2016.
Neonatal sepsis (sepsis neonatorum). The Merck Manual Professional Edition website. Available at:
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Updated May 2013. Accessed September 15, 2015.
Last reviewed September 2018 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013
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