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What is Sepsis?

Sepsis, or systemic inflammatory response syndrome, is a life-threatening illness usually caused by a bacterial infection. The immune system goes into overdrive, overwhelming normal processes in the blood, resulting in small clots that block blood flow to vital organs. This can lead to organ failure. 



A change in mental status and hyperventilation may be the earliest signs of impending sepsis. Other signs include: 


  • Fever or hypothermia (low body temperature) 
  • Chills 
  • Shaking 
  • Warm skin 
  • Skin rash 
  • Rapid heart beat 
  • Confusion or delerium 
  • Decreased urine output 



The infection is often confirmed by: 

  • White blood cell count that is low or high 
  • Platelet count that is low 
  • Blood culture that is positive for bacteria 
  • Blood gases that reveal acidosis 
  • Kidney function tests that are abnormal (early in the course of disease) 



IV antibiotics and fluids may be given to try to knock out the infection and to keep blood pressure from dropping too low. Patients may also need respirators to help them breathe. Dialysis may be necessary in the event of kidney failure, and mechanical ventilation is often required if respiratory failure occurs. 

Sepsis is diagnosed and treated by physicians, nurses and other clinical staff in the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine  at Hopkins Children’s.