Five sepsis symptoms in children all parents should know

Sepsis symptoms in children: Five warning signs all parents should know

  • Sepsis is a ‘silent killer’ that takes the lives of five people every hour in the UK
  • Symptoms in children differ to adults and include a rash and breathing fast 
  • READ ALSO: Jason Watkins reveals daughter’s ‘avoidable’ death from sepsis

Knowing the symptoms of sepsis could save your child’s life. 

Each year, 2,000 children in the UK and 75,000 in the US develop sepsis. 

When caught early, the infection, also known as blood poisoning, is treatable with antibiotics. But without this vital medication, it can lead to organ failure and death.

The life-threatening illness happens when your immune system overreacts to an infection and starts to attack the body’s own tissue and organs. 

Actor Jason Watkins and his wife Clara Francis are now speaking out about the ‘silent killer’, which took the life of his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Maude in 2011.

In an ITV1 documentary, Jason & Clara: In Memory of Maudie, the couple reveal her death from sepsis could have been avoided.  

Here, MailOnline highlights the warning signs of sepsis in children to help catch the illness early. 

Sepsis is life-threatening but if caught early it is treatable. Children with sepsis can have breathing difficulties, fits, be lethargic, have a rash that does not fade when you put  a glass to it and babies can struggle to feed

Change in skin

Sepsis can cause the skin to change appearance. 

This can include the skin looking mottled — when a web-like rash appears — blueish, pale or developing a rash that does not fade, according to The UK Sepsis Trust.

A child’s skin may also feel abnormally cold to touch.

This is down to toxins — produced by the bacteria causing the infection — damaging the small blood vessels and causing them to leak fluid into the surrounding tissues, according to the NHS.

This has a knock-on effect on the heart’s ability to pump blood, which lowers blood pressure and the body’s surface temperature.

Jason Watkins and Clara Francis have been working on Jason & Clara: In Memory of Maudie, which will see the couple offer support to other families suffering through grief, following the death of their daughter aged two in 2011

Ahead of the release of the documentary, the couple spoke to Giovanna Fletcher on her Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast about the devastating loss of their child Maude pictured above

Breathing fast

If a child is breathing very fast, the NHS says to call 999.

It could be a sign of sepsis, as the infection can cause blood pressure to drop. 

As a result, vital organs, such as the brain and the liver, do not get the blood and oxygen they need. 

This can cause rapid breathing. 

For children under five who can talk, you may notice they struggle to say more than a couple of words before getting out of breath. 

Children may also make grunting noises and suck their stomach in with each breath. 

‘I failed at the thing I was supposed to be doing… keeping her alive’: Jason Watkins and wife Clara reveal heartbreak over their daughter’s ‘avoidable’ death from sepsis

‘I failed at the thing I was supposed to be doing… keeping her alive’: Jason Watkins and wife Clara reveal heartbreak over their daughter’s ‘avoidable’ death from sepsis

Harrowing: Jason Watkins and Clara Francis have opened up on the heartbreaking death of their daughter Maudie as they reveal her death from sepsis could have been avoided


A child may have a fit or convulsion, if they are suffering from sepsis. 

This reaction can be caused by the brain not getting the vital blood it needs.

A febrile seizure is caused by a fever and causes a child’s body to become stiff and their legs and arms to twitch. 

During the fit, a child will lose consciousness and may wet themselves, vomit or foam at the mouth. 

It usually lasts for less than five minutes. 

Although it is not always a sign of something serious, the NHS advises going to the nearest hospital as a precaution.

Difficult to wake 

Children with sepsis can become very lethargic or difficult to wake, The UK Sepsis Trust warns. 

Just like a cold or flu, sepsis can also make people feel tired and lethargic. 

But, if a child becomes increasingly difficult to wake, it could be a sign of sepsis. 

This is because the brain and other vital organs are not getting the blood and oxygen that they need due to the body’s extreme response to an infection.

If the body continues to be deprived of blood and oxygen, it can lead to multiple organ failure and death. 

Stopped feeding 

Babies and children under five may show different signs of sepsis.

In addition to getting a rash or breathing fast, children under five can also struggle with eating and drinking.

If a baby is not feeding it can be a sign they are suffering pain, discomfort or an illness, which could be sepsis, The UK Sepsis Trust warns. 

Other signs to look out for include a child vomiting repeatedly and not passing urine for 12 hours or more. 

What are the key symptoms of sepsis? The ‘silent killer’ that can cause death in minutes

Sepsis, known as the ‘silent killer’, strikes when an infection such as blood poisoning sparks a violent immune response in which the body attacks its own organs. 

It is a potentially life-threatening condition, triggered by an infection or injury.  Around 245,000 people develop sepsis in the UK each year and 52,000 die, according to the UK Sepsis Trust.

Instead of attacking the invading bug, the body turns on itself, shutting down vital organs.

If caught early enough, it’s easily treated with intravenous antibiotics and fluids, but these must be given as soon as sepsis is suspected – it strikes with frightening speed and, for every hour of delay, a patient’s chance of dying increases 8 per cent.

Sepsis is a leading cause of avoidable death killing 44,000 people each year

The early symptoms of sepsis can be easily confused with more mild conditions, meaning it can be difficult to diagnose. 

A high temperature (fever), chills and shivering, a fast heartbeat and rapid breathing are also indicators. 

A patient can rapidly deteriorate if sepsis is missed early on, so quick diagnosis and treatment is vital – yet this rarely happens. 

In the early stages, sepsis can be mistaken for a chest infection, flu or upset stomach. 

It is most common and dangerous in older adults, pregnant women, children younger than one, people with chronic conditions or those who have weakened immune systems.  

The six signs of something potentially deadly can be identified by the acronym ‘SEPSIS’:

  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine in a day
  • Severe breathlessness
  • Skin that’s mottled or discoloured  

Anyone who develops any of these symptoms should seek medical help urgently — and ask doctors: ‘Could this be sepsis?’ 

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