Should you need urgent health advice please contact your GP or call NHS 111. In an emergency please visit A&E or call 999

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Septicaemia (sepsis) in children 0-5 years

Septicaemia is often referred to as sepsis or blood poisoning. It’s caused by bacteria getting into the bloodstream.

Sepsis is rare, but it can be a serious complication of any type of infection. It may be caused by viral or fungal infection, but most common following a bacterial infection.

Sepsis needs treating urgently as it affects the major organs in the body and can cause death.

If your child has any of the symptoms below, take them straight to A&E or dial 999

Symptoms in children under 5 years

  • skin looks bluish, mottled or pale (look around the lips and eyes)
  • child is very sleepy, difficult to rouse or wake
  • breathing very fast
  • feeling cold
  • has a rash that doesn’t fade when you press it
  • has had a fit or convulsion

Meningitis glass test

Remember, you as the parent know your child better than anyone, so go with your instincts and call for help or advice.

If your child is suffering with any of the following symptoms or is becoming increasingly unwell (even if their temperature is coming down), get medical advice urgently by calling NHS 111.


  • A temperature over 38C (101F) in babies under 3 months old
  • A temperature over 39C (102F) in babies 3 to 6 months old 
  • If your child has a high temperature and is weary, lethargic or not themselves, and you can’t get them to show an interest in anything
  • If your child has a low temperature ( below 36C -check 3 times in a 10 minute period)


  • If it looks like your child is finding breathing more difficult than usual
  • If they ‘grunt’ at each breath
  • If they have a noticeable pause in their breathing pattern
  • For older children who can talk, if they struggle to say more than a couple of words before getting out of breath.

Eating and drinking

  • Refusing drink for more than 8 hours
  • If your baby is under 1 month old and will not feed
  • Green, black or bloody sick (vomit)

Other things to look for:

  • There have been no wet nappies or no urine passed for 12 hours
  • Soft spot (fontanelle) on the top of the baby’s head is swollen or sunken
  • Baby is limp
  • Not showing any interest in anything
  • Eyes seem dark or sunken
  • Weak continuous crying and fretfulness
  • Irritable and unresponsive
  • Pain when looking up or down
  • Confusion in older children

Page last reviewed: 23-06-2021

Next review due: 23-06-2024