Neonatal sepsis is a bacterial infection in the blood. Early-onset sepsis develops in the first 2 to 3 days after birth. Late-onset sepsis develops within 3 to 7 days after birth.
Spread of Infection
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Neonatal sepsis is caused by bacteria.
Early-onset sepsis is caused by an infection from the mother. It may pass to the infant from the placenta or birth canal during birth. Late-onset sepsis is caused by bacteria from the healthcare environment.
This problem is more common in babies that are:
- Born very early
- Born with a low birth weight
Other things that may raise the risk are:
- A mother whose water broke more than 18 hours before giving birth
- Group B streptococcal bacteria in the mother's vaginal or rectal areas
- Babies that need early care, such as a catheter
Symptoms may be:
- Fever or many changes in temperature
- Problems feeding
- Lack of energy
- A high-pitched cry
- Yellow, blue, or pale skin
- Bruising or bleeding
- Cool, clammy skin
- Skin rashes
- Fast breathing, problems breathing, or periods of no breathing
- Swollen belly
- Little or no urination
You will be asked about your baby's symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
These tests will be done to look for signs of infection:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Lumbar puncture
to check the fluid around the brain and spinal cord
- Respiratory secretion testing
Treatment depends on how severe the problem is. It may include:
- Antibiotics to treat infection
- Supportive care, such as IV fluids
- Oxygen or breathing support
Neonatal sepsis may be prevented by good prenatal care. This includes controlling any bacteria in the mother before it is spread during pregnancy or birth.
Early-onset neonatal sepsis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/early-onset-neonatal-sepsis. Updated July 2, 2018. Accessed January 7, 2020.
Late-onset neonatal sepsis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/condition/late-onset-neonatal-sepsis. Updated November 8, 2019. Accessed January 7, 2020.
Neonatal sepsis (sepsis neonatorum). The Merck Manual Professional Edition website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/infections_in_neonates/neonatal_sepsis.html. Updated July 2018. Accessed January 7, 2020.
Shane AL, Sánchez PJ, et al. Neonatal sepsis. Lancet. 2017 Oct 14;390(10104):1770-1780.
Last reviewed September 2019 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Kari Kassir, MD
Last Updated: 7/28/2020