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What is Neonatal Septicemia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 14 June 2018
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Neonatal septicemia is the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream of a newborn baby, exposing the baby to the risk of sepsis, a medical emergency characterized by a whole-body inflammatory response. Neonates are very vulnerable to infection, as their immune systems are poorly developed, and neonatal septicemia carries a significant risk of neonatal mortality. Treatment needs to be prompt and aggressive, and will require hospitalization so the infant can be supervised through treatment and recovery. Interventions like mechanical ventilation may also be necessary.

Infants can contract septicemia in a number of ways. Once bacteria enter the bloodstream, they can start multiplying quickly and they will spread throughout the body. In the case of an infant, the small size of the patient poses a risk, as the bacteria can quickly overload the bloodstream and the infant's immune system will not be able to keep pace with the spreading infection. Blood tests will reveal the presence of bacteria in the blood and can provide information about the concentrations present.

Intravenous antibiotics are provided to infants with neonatal septicemia to kill the organisms. In addition, supportive care like oxygen therapy, warming under a blanket, and fluid supplementation is provided. The goal is to keep the infant as stable as possible during the process of administering antibiotics and waiting for them to work. Aggressive, broad-spectrum drugs are provided to increase the chances of a successful treatment on the first try.

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An infant with neonatal septicemia is at risk of complications like a dangerously high fever, an infection in the brain, pulmonary dysfunction, and liver or kidney overload. The infant is usually gravely ill and needs to be cared for in an intensive environment where nurses are available to monitor patients at all times and respond to changes in condition as rapidly as possible. The patient may also need to be kept in isolation to address concerns about the spread of infection.

When parents are informed that a newborn has neonatal septicemia, they should ask about all the available treatment options, the risk of complications, and what to expect over the course of treatment. Care providers can provide comprehensive information on the basis of the type of bacteria present, the setting, treatment outcomes with other patients, and so forth. Patient outcomes tend to be poor when intensive care geared to infants is not available, and lack of access to antibiotics and stabilizing care can make the treatment of this condition extremely difficult.

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