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How is Sepsis in Newborns Treated?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sepsis is an infection that is so severe that the bacterial toxins overwhelm the body, causing organ and tissue damage and possibly death. This condition in newborns is particularly dangerous because of their underdeveloped immune systems, so treatment for babies with suspected sepsis is usually immediate, often before a complete diagnosis. Aggressive treatment with intravenous antibiotics is the first step, and the type of antibiotic depends on which types of bacteria are suspected in causing the infection. Sepsis in newborns requires that the child be carefully monitored for vital signs, blood pressure, and the health of the blood. In some cases, infants will be placed on cardiopulmonary support, fed intravenously, and given special blood transfusions to enhance their immune system.

The first step in treating sepsis in newborns is to aggressively destroy the bacteria with intravenous antibiotics. Early sepsis in newborns is typically caused by a bacterial infection transferred from the mother or the hospital. Maternal infections are treated with a broad spectrum of penicillium. Nosocomial infections, or infections contract during hospitalization, are often resistant to penicillin, so are instead treated with a new form of antibiotic called oxacillin. Late-onset sepsis in newborns can develop 1 week to 3 months after birth, is usually caused by the home environment, and is usually treated with cephalosporins.

While the antibiotics are destroying the invading bacteria, the infant is typically placed in a special section of the neonatal intensive care unit to monitor blood pressure, heart function, and respiration, and kept as healthy as possible using intravenous fluids and nourishment. If heart and lung function is compromised, the child will be immediately placed on cardiopulmonary support. The goal is to uphold the child's health so that the antibiotics can work.

During all of these treatments for sepsis, the infant will be regularly monitored for changes in the infection. Urine, blood samples, and occasionally spinal fluid samples will be periodically collected and reviewed to see if the infection is waning or strengthening. If the infection is strengthening, the type of antibiotic may be changed or increased. When antibiotics continually fail to improve the child's health, various transfusions of immune-boosting blood treatments such as granulocytes, immune globulin replacement, and recombinant cytokines may be tried. Once the infection begins to decrease, the life support measures will be gradually decreased with careful monitoring, but antibiotics will continue for a short time even after the infant is better, ensuring that all the bacteria has been destroyed.

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