Preventing Sepsis in Children

In most instances, sepsis—a fast-moving, dangerous inflammatory response to infection—cannot be prevented. Nevertheless, there are a few things parents and caregivers can do during pregnancy and afterward to protect babies from certain bacterial infections that can lead to sepsis.

During Delivery

About 25 percent of healthy women have a type of bacteria called group B Streptococcus in the rectum or vagina. The bacterium often doesn’t cause symptoms but can infect a baby during delivery and lead to sepsis.

Doctors at Hassenfeld Children's Hospital of New York at NYU Langone recommend that all pregnant women have a simple test a few weeks before the baby is due to determine if they are carriers of this bacterium. Your obstetrician swabs the inside of your vagina and sends a sample to a laboratory, which tests for the presence of group B Streptococcus.

Premature and prolonged rupture of the amniotic sac—the fluid-filled bag in which the baby grows and develops in the womb—also increases the risk of infection and sepsis in a newborn.

A pregnant woman who has either of these conditions may be treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics a few hours before delivery to avoid transmitting an infection to her baby.

After Delivery

Vaccination is an important strategy for preventing infections, such as pneumococcal pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae type b, that can lead to sepsis in babies and young children. Vaccinating against these bacterial infections is recommended for all children younger than age five. Some vaccines are given in multiple doses over a period of several months. Ask your doctor if your child is up-to-date on his or her vaccination schedule.

Infections can also be prevented by practicing good hygiene. It’s important, for instance, to always wash your hands before handling a baby.

A child who is diagnosed with a bacterial infection should complete a full course of antibiotics, as prescribed by the doctor. Seek immediate medical attention if your child’s symptoms worsen during or after antibiotic therapy.

If your baby or child has a medical device, such as a catheter, follow your doctor’s instructions about how to keep it clean and sterile.

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