Sepsis is an infection in the bloodstream that poses severe health risks. It can directly infect the central nervous system or its surrounding membranes. Infection is transmitted through the amniotic fluid or during vaginal delivery as the baby passes through the lower genital tract.
Given the severity of sepsis, the threshold for treating it is very low, prompting physicians to even treat cases where sepsis is suspected. Sepsis can also cause shock (known as septic shock), severely decreasing blood flow and pressure and compromising brain function. Doctors treat sepsis with antibiotic regimens. While the only way to confirm sepsis is to test cell cultures, treatment should begin even before test results come back.
Sepsis in a newborn, called neonatal sepsis, is a very dangerous condition in which a baby has an infection in her blood stream. This infection can cause seizures, meningitis, septic shock, brain injury and cerebral palsy. Sepsis can damage the brain either by direct infection of the central nervous system or indirectly, by causing inflammation in the brain (encephalitis).
Group B streptococcus (GBS) and chorioamnionitis are infections that can travel to the baby before or during delivery and cause sepsis, seizures, meningitis and cerebral palsy. Other risk factors for sepsis include preterm delivery / premature birth and the mother’s water breaking early, called premature rupture of the membranes (PROM).
An infection can be transmitted to the baby through the amniotic fluid or during vaginal delivery, when there is bacteria colonizing or infecting the mother’s lower genital tract. Sometimes infection occurs within the first 7 days of the baby’s life, called early-onset sepsis (EOS). Late-onset sepsis (LOS) occurs after 72 hours of life, or after 7 days, depending on which definition is used. Late-onset sepsis can occur when the baby is infected by the mother either right before or during delivery, with an initial colonization of bacteria in the baby that later evolves into sepsis.