What All Parents Need to Know About Life-Threatening Sepsis | Symptoms for Teenagers and Children

Sepsis and Children

I’m a worrier. It’s my nature. Having a disabled child, and one who is both non-verbal and medically complex only exacerbates my worrying.

In the past 15 years, I have actually known two people who have died of sepsis. I mean, I know thousands more have, but these were people who I actually knew and had met. A friend of a friend, if you will.

a disabled girl talks with her doctor

One was a child and they thought that she had the flu.

The other was a mom, and she was just doing the mom-thing being super busy around the holidays. She got sick, kept going and going (like Moms do!) thinking it would pass. A few days later she was dead.

It happens that fast.

So, now I worry about sepsis. Especially with Kevin. He falls frequently due to poor motor planning and due to seizures. He often has bruises and cuts from these falls and he’s not usually cooperative about letting us inspect and treat wounds.

What is Sepsis?

  • Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It is life-threatening, and without the treatment, sepsis can rapidly cause to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.
  • Sepsis happens when an infection you already have—in your skin, lungs, urinary tract or somewhere else—triggers a chain reaction throughout your body.
  • Anyone can get an infection, and almost any infection can lead to sepsis.
  • Sepsis is a medical emergency. More than 1.5 million people each year in America get sepsis, and at least 250,000 people die as a result. Delayed recognition and treatment increases patients’ risk of death.
sepsis and special needs disabilities

What worries me more is that Kevin has a strange and extreme body reaction to bug bites. Not an anaphylactic shock, which is scary too. But bug bites affect him differently than they do most kids. Twice he has developed cellulitis from mosquito bites and cellulitis can turn into sepsis.

cellulitis mosquito bites
This is what happens to Kevin with an ordinary mosquito bite. Had I not posted this photo on Facebook and had a nurse respond that I need to go see a doctor ASAP, the outcome could have been quite different.

How do Kids get Sepsis?

Kids (and adults) get sepsis from an existing infection. An infection that does not take the correct healing path in the body and your body triggers a (negative) chain reaction in the body.

Almost any type of infection can lead to sepsis. Infections that lead to sepsis most often start in the lung, urinary tract, skin, or gastrointestinal tract.

Children cannot spread sepsis to each other. However, all persons can spread infections from one person to another, and sepsis starts with an infection. Yes, COVID-19 can lead a person on a path to sepsis.

Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis in Children

The only thing that curbs my worrying is knowing the signs and symptoms, going with my gut, and knowing my child.

  • Sepsis symptoms can include one or a combination of the following:
    • Confusion or disorientation
    • Shortness of breath
    • High heart rate
    • Fever, or shivering, or feeling very cold
    • Extreme pain or discomfort
    • Clammy or sweaty skin
  • How can I get ahead of sepsis?
    • Talk to your doctor or nurse about steps you can take to prevent infections. Some steps include taking good care of chronic conditions and getting recommended vaccines.
    • Practice good hygiene, such as hand-washing, and keeping cuts clean and covered until healed.
    • Know the symptoms of sepsis.
    • ACT FAST. Get medical care IMMEDIATELY if you suspect sepsis or have an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse.

As moms to disabled kiddos, that’s the best we can do. Know the signs and symptoms, and know what to do. Most of us have good and close relationships with our medical care providers since our kids are at high risk for so many things. Every night when I put on his pajamas and every morning before/during his shower, I inspect him for bumps, bruises and injuries. Just part of our daily routine.

Sepsis Risk Factors

Sepsis can happen to anyone. In fact, the two people I knew who died from sepsis both did not have any of these risk factors. However, there are risk factors associated with a higher risk of sepsis.

  • Under the age of 1 or over the age of 65
  • People who are immunocompromised or have weakened immune systems
  • People with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, lung conditions
  • People who previously survived sepsis

Sepsis is a medical emergency. If you or your loved one suspect sepsis or has an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse, ask your doctor or nurse, “Could this infection be leading to sepsis?”

To learn more about sepsis and how to prevent infections, visit www.cdc.gov/sepsis.

For more information about antibiotic prescribing and use, visit www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use.

Also read: There is no magic pill. Why it’s important to Be Antibiotics Aware.

Please note: I am not a doctor nor do I play one on the internet. This post was published with information provided to me by the CDC because they wanted to spread awareness of sepsis.

disabled girl chats with doctor
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