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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 always. Most people with infections do not get sepsis. At Jude, your child might be at risk because of certain conditions or medical procedures.

Who is at risk for sepsis?

Sepsis is more common in these cases:

  • People in the hospital,
  • Those who recently had surgery,
  • Patients with certain medical equipment, such as IVs or catheters. Keeping the end of the tube clean can help prevent infection and sepsis.
  • Those who have a weaker immune system than normal. For example, some patients getting chemotherapy have weak immune systems.

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 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 a nurse or doctor if your child show any of these signs:

  • Fever, 100.4 degrees F or above
  • Rapid breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fast heart rate
  • Extreme pain or discomfort
  • Pale or mottled skin
  • Confused and sleepy, hard to wake up
  • Acting irritable, fussy, confused, or just “different”

If you talked to the doctor or nurse and are still concerned that your child may be getting worse and needs to be seen right way, call the Rapid Response Team (RRT) at 901-599-3999.

What happens if the staff suspects my child has sepsis?

The medical team, nursing coordinator and your child’s bedside nurse will discuss your child’s vital signs and any signs of sepsis your child might have. We call this a “sepsis huddle.” You will be included in this discussion. You can give the staff important information about your child’s current state.

The staff will carefully consider the risk of sepsis based on your child’s diagnosis and current ability to fight infection. The team may decide that even though your child has some possible sepsis signs, they do not suspect it at this time. Your child may be placed on a “sepsis watch.” The staff will watch your child closely for signs of sepsis and will likely do tests and give your child antibiotics.

If sepsis is suspected, your child might be transferred to the intensive care unit or might remain on the current unit and watched closely.

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 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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