By the bioMérieux Connection Editors
Pediatric Sepsis Week, hosted by the Sepsis Alliance, is observed annually during the third week of April to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of sepsis in children, recognize the 75,000 children who develop sepsis each year in the United States, and honor those who have passed.
Sepsis occurs when the body has an abnormally severe response to an infection, which can be caused by any type of germ. When the body experiences an infection, the immune system responds by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream to help fight off bacteria and other harmful germs. Sometimes the immune system reacts improperly, and rather than fighting the infection, the immune system ends up fighting the body. Sepsis is the leading cause of death in young children worldwide, ahead of pediatric cancer. Those who survive sepsis are often left with life-changing problems.
When Are Children Most at Risk for Sepsis?
While sepsis can affect anyone, children with weakened or impaired immune systems are at higher risk and are also less likely to resume their previous quality of life after having sepsis. Worldwide, children with health conditions that leave them more vulnerable to infection account for 49% of pediatric sepsis cases. These health conditions tend to be age-specific, with studies showing that often, “Infants have chronic lung disease or congenital heart disease, while children ages one through nine have underlying neuromuscular disease and adolescents have pre-existing cancer.”
There are also certain behaviors and environmental factors that may increase the likelihood of getting and spreading infections, including poor hygiene, inadequate infection control in medical settings, lack of or insufficient community sanitation systems, and lack of access to healthcare services and facilities. Sepsis is especially prevalent in low- and middle-income countries, and in communities that do not have access to quality healthcare facilities. Studies show that economic and demographic factors play a role in the health risks that children are exposed to. In an interview with WebMD, Dr. Niranjan Kissoon, President of the Global Sepsis Alliance, says that, “Infants of low-income families are 20 times more likely to die of sepsis. In fact, infants from families without insurance are also three times more likely to die.”
Symptoms of Sepsis in Children
Because sepsis is life-threatening, it is important to watch for symptoms and identify sepsis as early as possible.
Some signs of sepsis that may appear in a child of any age include:
- Feels abnormally cold to the touch
- Looks mottled, bluish, or has very pale skin
- Has a rash that does not fade when you press it
- Is breathing very fast
- Has a convulsion
- Is very lethargic or difficult to wake up
Some additional signs for children younger than age 5 include:
- Not eating
- Repeated vomiting
- Not urinating for 12 hours
How You Can Help Raise Awareness for Pediatric Sepsis
Spreading awareness is one of the main goals of Pediatric Sepsis Week, and one of the easiest, most effective ways of sharing information is via social media. The Sepsis Alliance offers many shareable resources, including infographics and stories from sepsis patients and their families. If you or a loved one experienced sepsis, you can also share your story with Sepsis Alliance. Additionally, the CDC offers resources about sepsis for patients, families, and medical practitioners. By sharing infographics and other informational resources, as well as sepsis patient stories, you can help people learn more about this dangerous condition and contribute to the effort to help save lives.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of bioMérieux, Inc.