Does my child have sepsis?

My child is hot / has a fever

Fever is extremely common in children and usually suggests that your child has an infection. A child has a fever if their temperature is 38.0°C (100.4°F) or above. The most accurate way of measuring your child’s temperature is with a digital thermometer.

  • Viral infections are far more common than bacterial infections.
  • Symptoms such as runny nose, cough, wheeze, sore throat, red eyes and diarrhoea are more suggestive of a viral infection than a bacterial infection. If a number of people are unwell in the same household, this also suggests a viral infection (because viral infections are easily spread). Viral infections do not treatment with antibiotics.
  • Sepsis is a rare but serious form of bacterial infection which needs to be diagnosed and treated early.
  • The diagnosis of sepsis is initially based on simple measurements such as temperature, heart rate and breathing rate.
  • For further information on sepsis, click here

What should you do if your child has a fever but no signs of sepsis?

  • To make your child more comfortable, you may want to lower their temperature using paracetamol (calpol) and/or ibuprofen. However, remember that fever is a normal response that may help the body to fight infection and paracetamol/ibuprofen will not get rid of it entirely.
  • Avoid tepid sponging your child – it doesn’t actually reduce your child’s temperature and may cause your child to shiver.
  • Encourage them to drink plenty of fluids.
  • If a rash appears, do the glass test

glass test

How long will it take for my child to get better?

  • Fever caused by a viral infection tends to improve within 2 to 3 days.
  • If your child’s fever lasts for more than 5 days and they are not getting any better in themselves, get them seen by your GP.
  • The chart below shows how long fever lasts in a child with viral infections. The faces represent 10 children who have seen their GP with a viral infection. Green faces are those children whose fever has recovered within that time period.Fever.pngThe diagram is taken from 'When should I worry

When should you worry?

Go straight to A&E or call 999 if your child:

  • is very lethargic, difficult to wake or confused/disorientated (despite being given paracetamol/ibuprofen to bring their fever coming down).
  • has severe breathing problems, such as rapid breathing, shortness of breath or laboured breathing (drawing in of muscles below the lower ribs when they breath in, or blue lips).
  • feels abnormally cold to touch with mottled/pale skin.
  • has a rash that doesn't fade under pressure using the glass test.
  • has a fit/seizure

Your child should be reviewed urgently by a healthcare professional (such as your GP) if they:

  • are less than 6 months of age and have a fever of 38°C / 100.4°F or more (fever is common in babies up to 48 hours after vaccinations).
  • have a fever that lasts for more than 5 days and are getting no better.
  • develop severe muscle, arm or leg pain (for no obvious reason).
  • have a fever 3 or more days after developing chickenpox and are becoming more unwell.
  • are showing signs of dehydration (sunken eyes, passing very little urine, becoming lethargic or difficult to wake, sunken soft spot on head in children less than a year of age).

Where should you seek help?

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