Sepsis and meningitis are dangerous infections that can lead to severe brain injury or death in infants (birth to 1 year*).
Sepsis is an infection of the bloodstream that can cause newborn’s immune system to attack its body’s own tissues and organs, such as the lungs, intestines or skin. Sepsis can lead to meningitis, a viral or bacterial infection in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
Both sepsis and meningitis are dangerous for newborns and can lead to severe brain injury or death. Premature infants (those born before 37 weeks’ gestation) are at greater risk for sepsis and meningitis because their immune systems are not as developed as a full-term infant.
Some newborns contract a group B streptococcus (called group B strep) infection from their mother during delivery, which can lead to sepsis. All pregnant women should be tested for the group B strep bacteria between 35 and 37 seven weeks of pregnancy. If a woman is at risk, she may be given IV antibiotics during labor to reduce the chances of passing the group B strep infection to her newborn.
Other risk factors that may increase the likelihood of a newborn having meningitis or sepsis include:
- Early rupture of the amniotic sac (water breaking), more than 18 hours before delivery
- Infection of the placenta
- Infection in the uterus
- Maternal fever during labor
Symptoms of sepsis and meningitis in newborns include:
- Brain damage
- Breathing problems
- Bulging fontanelle (soft spot on the head)
- Cerebral palsy
- Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
- Hypotonia or floppiness (decreased muscle tone)
- Faster than normal heart rate (during early sepsis)
- Ischemia (stroke)
- Jaundice (eyes and skin appear yellow)
- Low urine output
- Pale or blue skin color (cyanosis)
- Slower than normal heart rate (with septic shock)
*Age of infants as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO).