Health Library

What is Sepsis?

Sepsis is a life-threatening medical condition in which the body has a severe and toxic response to infection. The infection is usually caused by bacteria, but can also be brought on by viruses and other germs. Especially at risk are very young children and people with a weakened immune system or a chronic condition.


The symptoms of sepsis are caused by germs and the body’s own natural defense system. Symptoms include:

  • Fast heart rate
  • Fast breathing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Not able to wake easily
  • Lethargic
  • Fussy / irritable or confused
  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased urine output
  • Warm flushed skin, or cool mottled skin

Call Your Doctor If …

Call your doctor right away if one of these statements describes your child:

  • Had a recent infection and now has three or more of the symptoms
  • Had a recent medical procedure or surgery and now has three or more of the symptoms
  • Has a central line or PICC line and a fever
  • Is immunocompromised (weakened immune system from medications) or chronic medical conditions and has 2 or more symptoms
  • Fever or low body temperature (hypothermia) for a child under 3 months

It is important to call your doctor right away. Treatment for sepsis needs to begin at once.

A person with sepsis will need to stay in the hospital for treatment, which includes IV antibiotics and fluids.

Steps to Take During Hospital Stays

There are ways to help prevent the spread of germs during a hospital stay:

  • Wash your hands when you enter and leave your child’s room.
  • Limit visitors, especially other children.
  • You may have to wear gown, gloves and a mask when going into your child’s room to keep the infection from spreading.
  • Make sure your child drinks fluids throughout the day.

Last Updated 12/2021

Reviewed By Laura Hatcher, APRN, CNP

Visiting Cincinnati Childrens.

Cincinnati Children’s has primary care services at locations throughout Greater Cincinnati.