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What is pediatric sepsis?

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Dr. Muzna Atif Explains What Parents Should Know About this Condition

More than 75,000 infants and children develop sepsis yearly in the United States, and the condition is one of the leading causes of death among youth according to the Sepsis Alliance. However, mortality rates continue to decline due to advanced treatments. Dr. Muzna Atif, pediatric hospitalist and medical director of inpatient pediatric hospitalist services at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, shares what parents need to know about pediatric sepsis, the symptoms and when to seek medical care for their children.

What is pediatric sepsis?

Pediatric sepsis occurs when a child’s body has an extreme response to a severe infection. An infection can trigger a chain reaction through the body and can start in the lungs, urinary or gastrointestinal tract. Bacterial infections cause most sepsis cases, but it can also develop through viral infections like COVID-19 and influenza. Sepsis is a serious condition that can cause severe symptoms, and if left untreated, be life-threatening and lead to organ failure, tissue damage, and death. Thankfully, sepsis is not contagious and cannot be passed between people.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

When toxic germs enter the bloodstream, the body can experience a number of signs and symptoms, including:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Fever
  • Shivering, clammy or sweaty skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Extreme pain and discomfort
  • Drop in or no urine output

When to seek medical care?

If your child becomes sick and you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or take your child to the nearest emergency department or seek medical attention from a pediatrician or family physician.

Emergency warning signs of severe illness include a persistent fever beyond 48-72 hours, shortness of breath, or if the child is unable to drink fluids.

How to treat pediatric sepsis?

Once a diagnosis of pediatric sepsis has been made, treatment will include, but is not limited to, IV fluids and antibiotic medications.

How can you prevent sepsis from developing?

Steps that you and your child can take to lower your risk of developing an infection or sepsis:

  • Keep cuts and other wounds, no matter how small, clean and covered until healed
  • Practice proper hand hygiene – wash or sanitize hands frequently
  • Manage any chronic illnesses to keep your body healthy
  • Stay updated on recommended vaccinations
  • Seek care immediately if you suspect an infection is developing

Children’s Services at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center

PVHMC provides a Children’s Outpatient Center, Level IIIb Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and pediatric emergency services and inpatient pediatric care. A new pediatric inpatient care unit will open in December 2023 to expand pediatric inpatient services and improve access to higher levels of care. For more information about our Children's Services at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center, call 909.865.9858 or email