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Child sepsis safety net

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition - the symptoms can be vague or severe. This leaflet covers what to look out for and when to seek help.

This leaflet was originally produced in collaboration with The UK Sepsis Trust - it has since been updated. This charity is committed to raising awareness of sepsis and improving the care of patients with sepsis.

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition and needs emergency treatment in hospital. The symptoms of sepsis may be vague and not specific. If your child is unwell with either a fever or very low temperature (or has had a fever in the last 24 hours), just ask: Could it be sepsis?

Call an ambulance immediately - 999 if in the UK - If your child has any of the following:

  • Is breathing very fast.

  • Has a 'fit' or convulsion.

  • Has clammy, cold skin and looks blue, pale or patchy (mottled).

  • Has a rash that does not fade when you press it. The glass test is a good way to work this out - press a clear glass against the rash - if the rash does not fade or disappear, call an ambulance immediately.

  • Is very lethargic or difficult to wake.

  • Feels abnormally cold to touch.

Other severe symptoms to look out for - again, call an ambulance if your child:

  • Has severe shivering.

  • Has severe muscle pain or tummy (abdominal) pain.

  • Is confused or disorientated (not sure where they are).

  • Has slurred speech.

  • Is feeling very dizzy or faint

  • Is not passing urine all day (18 hours for older children and adults; 12 hours for younger children)

Any child under 5 years of age with the symptoms below may have sepsis - you must seek immediate medical attention (call your GP or go to your nearest emergency department) if your child:

  • Is not feeding.

  • Is vomiting repeatedly.

  • Hasn't had a wee or a wet nappy for 12 hours.

If your child does have sepsis they may also have other symptoms of infection such as a flu-like illness (cough, fever, muscle aches and joint pains) or diarrhoea and vomiting.

Early treatment saves lives. In the UK, call 999 if you are very concerned. Call your GP immediately if you're concerned, but don't think your child needs to go straight to hospital. If there is any delay in talking to a doctor then call for an ambulance immediately.

Further reading and references

Article history

The information on this page is written and peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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