How to recognize the signs of sepsis in children

  • A fever of 101.5 or higher is one indicator of sepsis. Symptoms of sepsis can be subtle and look like other common illnesses

    A fever of 101.5 or higher is one indicator of sepsis. Symptoms of sepsis can be subtle and look like other common illnesses Courtesy of Lurie Children's Hospital

  • Dr. Elizabeth Alpern

    Dr. Elizabeth Alpern

By Lurie Children’s Hospital
Posted9/15/2019 7:30 AM

Sepsis is a serious, life-threatening condition.

Sepsis can occur in any child, but it's more likely to present in children who are currently experiencing an infection or an open wound in the hospital; have undergone a recent surgery; or have an already weakened immune system.


According to the Children's Hospital Association, severe sepsis occurs in more than 80,000 U.S. children annually.

So what should parents and caregivers look for if they suspect their child has sepsis?

According to The Children's Hospital Association, symptoms can look like other common illnesses and may include:

• Fever of 101.5 or higher

• Low blood pressure

• Fast heart rate

• Shortness of breath or trouble breathing

• Irritable or confused

• Vomiting or diarrhea

• Less interest in playing or feeding

• Getting sicker fast

Dr. Elizabeth Alpern, division head for pediatric emergency medicine at Lurie Children's, states "Sepsis can affect any child, progresses quickly, and is difficult to diagnose. Children may have subtle signs of infection including fever, high heart rate, or not acting themselves. Early recognition and treatment can be lifesaving. If you are concerned about your child, we want to know -- we work best together as a team to identify and treat sepsis."

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Time is of the essence as sepsis can progress quickly. Contact your child's health care team and communicate your concerns using specific words like, "I am concerned this may be sepsis."

Washing your hands and keeping wounds clean are two ways to help prevent sepsis.

Maintaining an up-to-date vaccination schedule also helps with prevention.

Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago is part of a national effort supported by The Children's Hospital Association to improve patient care delivery through better prevention, detection, and treatment of sepsis.

The Sepsis Team at Lurie Children's Hospital is working to improve care delivery across the care continuum through staff education, patient and family education, clinical care guidelines, and improvement in diagnostic practices.


Kimberly Denicolo, RN, and Dr. Rebecca Stephen, MD, two of the leaders involved with Lurie Children's Sepsis Team, note that a multidisciplinary, interdepartmental collaboration is required to create effective sepsis response systems throughout the organization.

Lurie Children's sepsis team includes physicians, nurses, quality improvement and patient safety experts, data analytics and informatics specialists, pharmacists and hospital administration.

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago.

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