What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a dangerous condition that can happen when your child has an infection. The body’s infection-fighting system is called the “immune system.” It usually fights off infections, sometimes with help from medicines and other treatments. When you get sepsis, your immune system attacks your own body instead of the infection.

Why should I know about sepsis?

Sepsis is a leading cause of death around the world, but many people have never heard of it. At St. Jude, we work hard to protect your child from sepsis. Keep reading to learn more about sepsis, including your child’s risk, what to watch for, and the treatments.

Will having an infection give my child sepsis?

Not necessarily. Most people with infections do not get sepsis. But your child at St. Jude might be at risk because of certain conditions or medical procedures.

Who is at risk for sepsis?

Sepsis is more common in people who:

  • Are in the hospital,
  • Had surgery recently,
  • Have certain medical equipment – Such as an IV or catheter, or
  • Have a weaker immune system than normal – For example, if your child is getting chemotherapy, this makes the immune system weaker.

If your child has any of these conditions, they have a higher risk of sepsis than some other people.

The St. Jude team will check your child for signs of sepsis. We will also do important things to help prevent it, such as keeping your child’s room, IV, and other medical equipment clean. You can also help protect your child. Learn the signs of sepsis and ask your child’s doctor or nurse if you have questions or notice anything that worries you.

Signs of sepsis

Talk to your child’s nurse if they show any of the signs listed below.

  • Acting irritable, fussy, confused, or just “different”
  • Being more sleepy than usual
  • Having a fever of 100.4 or above
  •  Vomiting, diarrhea, or both
  • Breathing problems

A child with sepsis can also have low blood pressure and a fast heart rate. Call the nurse or clinic right away if your child has any of the signs on the list above.

How doctors treat sepsis

First, your child will have tests to look for sepsis. These can include:

  • Tests on blood, urine, spinal fluid, or a sample of your child’s bowel movements, and
  • A chest X-ray.

Sepsis treatment depends on the cause. Bacteria are the most common cause, but not the only one. Antibiotics treat infections from bacteria, so your child will get antibiotics until the doctor has the test results. If these results show that bacteria are the cause of sepsis, the doctor will tell you how long your child needs antibiotics. Other treatments include:

  • Medicine to treat pain and fever – Such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), and
  • Fluids – To keep your child from getting dehydrated.

A virus, fungus, or parasite can also cause sepsis. Your child’s doctor will tell you about treatment if this is the cause.

If you have any questions about sepsis, please ask your child’s doctor or nurse.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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