How is neonatal sepsis diagnosed?

Neonatal sepsis is diagnosed base on an assessment of the infant and laboratory studies. Most infants present with non-specific, subtle signs and symptoms. Common clinical manifestations include:

  • poor thermoregulation
  • respiratory distress
  • apnea
  • pallor
  • lethargy
  • full or bulging fontanel
  • jaundice, ecchymosis or petechia

The laboratory studies include analysis of blood, urine and cerebrospinal fluid and radiologic examination.

Doctors will perform a number of tests if they suspect neonatal sepsis. Blood tests are the most important. A complete blood count (CBC) is used to determine whether white blood cells and platelets fall outside of the normal range. Blood will also be withdrawn and placed into a culture for incubation, where, if it contains bacteria, colonies will usually appear within two days. Other tests include urinalysis and spinal tap, which provide more information about the nature of the infection. If doctors suspect neonatal sepsis they will sometimes begin treatment before the test results arrive.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.