Sepsis signs and symptoms

Sepsis is a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment.

In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

What is sepsis

Sepsis happens when your body is fighting an infection and starts to injure its own tissues and organs. While sepsis can affect anyone at any age, young children are more at risk for sepsis.

Sepsis can develop following any infection including bacterial, viral or fungal infections. The best chance of getting better from sepsis is to treat it quickly.


Sepsis can be difficult to notice in the early stages as symptoms can be similar to other common illnesses such as the flu or gastro. Symptoms of sepsis can vary a lot between children. Use our paediatric sepsis checklist if your child is unwell and not getting better.

You know your child best - trust your gut feeling. If your child is more unwell than ever before or this illness is different from other times, ask your doctor or nurse 'Could it be sepsis?'

When to call Triple Zero (000) or go to emergency

If your child has any of these symptoms, they may be critically unwell and need emergency treatment.

  • Fast breathing or long pauses in breathing
  • Blotchy, pale or blue skin
  • Feels abnormally cold to touch
  • Rash that doesn’t fade when pressed (glass test)
  • Drowsy or difficult to wake up or confused
  • Floppy
  • Fit or convulsion
  • A lot of pain or very restless

Find your local emergency department using our hospital finder.

How we diagnose sepsis

We diagnose sepsis by monitoring your child’s temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and we may do some blood tests. We’ll also examine them regularly and they may have x-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans.


Sepsis is curable if it is identified and treated quickly and, in most cases, will lead to a full recovery. Children with sepsis will require an initial stay in hospital. Your child may also need to be transferred to the most appropriate place for their care, such as a Paediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Treatment includes antibiotics to treat the infection and support of any organs that are not functioning well. This may include intravenous fluids and, in more severe cases, medications to support blood pressure and ventilation to support the lungs in the intensive care unit.

Your child's healthcare team will speak with you about:

  • What a diagnosis of sepsis means for your child in the short, medium and long term
  • Plans for your child’s treatment
  • What to expect during your child’s recovery
  • How to inform the healthcare team if you are concerned your child is getting worse
  • Support you can receive in hospital.

How to protect your child from sepsis

  • Know the signs and symptoms of sepsis.
  • Talk to your healthcare professional about how to prevent infections.
  • If you suspect sepsis, seek medical treatment fast – the germs that cause sepsis can spread quickly.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse ‘Could it be sepsis?’

Could it be sepsis?

These are the 4 words which might save a life.

The stories below are shared by families to empower others to ask 'Could it be sepsis?' We deeply thank these families for sharing their stories with the hope that other families do not go through the same experience.

Liam's story

Liam was a healthy, bright, beautiful boy. At 11 months old, he was diagnosed with a middle ear infection. In the following hours he was not his usual self, with a fever, vomiting, fast heart rate and fatigue. Liam died within 30 hours of being diagnosed with the ear infection.

Austin's story

Austin became unwell when he was 2 years old. Normally bubbly and active, Austin wouldn't eat or drink and he didn't get better. When Austin got to hospital, his family noticed he couldn't stand on his right leg. Austin had an infection in his leg which caused sepsis.

Preston's story

Preston was a happy and strong 2 and a half year old who loved books and music. After catching a virus, Preston developed pneumonia, which caused an acute lung injury. This injury allowed a secondary infection to take hold which led to sepsis. Preston died a few short hours later.

Mia's story

Mia suddenly went from happy, active and cheeky 4 year old to critically ill, in intensive care and on life support. Amazingly Mia survived. However as a result of sepsis, Mia has become a quad amputee, having her arms and legs amputated.

Thomas's story

Thomas was a naturally talented and athletic 13 year old. Only 5 hours after being diagnosed with gastro, Thomas was in hospital with complete organ failure from sepsis. After a very brave fight in intensive care, Thomas died 20 days later.

Maddy's story

Maddy was an 18-year-old Honours Law student in the prime of her life. After being diagnosed with the flu, Maddy continued to feel worse. 4 days later, Maddy was in a coma. She died just two weeks shy of her 19th birthday.

Last updated: May 2024