Neonatal Sepsis (Sepsis Neonatorum)

Medical Author: John Mersch, MD, FAAP
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Neonatal sepsis is any infection involving an infant during the first 28 days of life. Neonatal sepsis is also known as "sepsis neonatorum." The infection may involve the infant globally or may be limited to just one organ (such as the lungs with pneumonia). It may be acquired prior to birth (intrauterine sepsis) or after birth (extrauterine sepsis). Viral (such as herpes, rubella [German measles]), bacterial (such as group B strep) and more rarely fungal (such as Candida) causes may be implicated.

During her pregnancy, a woman's obstetrician is constantly monitoring the health of both of the pregnant woman and her fetus for any signs or symptoms that might indicate sepsis. Prior to birth, many indicators can signal that a potential infection is developing. Women are screened for infectious diseases at their first OB office visit. Some of these include HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, Chlamydia, and hepatitis B, as well as immunity to rubella  and chickenpox. Between the 35th and 37th week of pregnancy, screening for group B strep is commonly performed. Some symptoms and signs, such as slower than anticipated fetal growth, may be subtle indications of threatened fetal well-being. Measurement of uterine size via the traditional tape measure or ultrasound examination of the uterus, placenta, and fetus will both provide critical information. Throughout the pregnancy, office visits provide the opportunity to monitor fetal heart rate. The obstetrician commonly evaluates both the actual heart rate at rest as well as the infant's cardiac response to a mild stress (for example, uterine contraction). If concerns develop, specialized evaluations can be performed ("stress testing") during which fetal heart rate, fetal movement and fetal tone are monitored and an objective risk assessment may be made. Maternal fever during her pregnancy warrants a timely and thorough evaluation. Equally significant would be the onset of premature labor or premature rupture of the amniotic sac (termed "premature rupture of membranes").

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/9/2014