Symptoms - Sepsis

Sepsis is a serious complication of an infection. Most cases of infection lead to a full recovery if it's identified and treated quickly.

Without quick treatment, sepsis can lead to multiple organ failure and death

Urgent advice: Call 999 or 112 or go to an emergency department (ED) if your child has any of these symptoms of sepsis:

  • skin looking mottled (patchy irregular colours, bluish or pale)
  • being very sluggish, unusually sleepy and difficult to wake
  • feeling abnormally cold to touch
  • breathing very fast
  • a rash that does not fade when you press it
  • having a fit or convulsion

They may not have all these symptoms.

Find an ED

Other symptoms in children under 5


  • A temperature over 38 degrees Celsius in babies under 3 months.
  • A temperature over 39 degrees Celsius in babies aged 3 to 6 months.
  • A low temperature (below 36 degrees Celsius – check 3 times in a 10-minute period).


  • Breathing looks like hard work - making 'grunting' noises with every breath.
  • Older children who normally talk cannot say more than a few words at once.
  • Breathing that obviously pauses.

Eating and drinking:

  • Not had a pee or wet nappy for 12 hours.
  • Baby under 1 month old with no interest in feeding or not drinking for more than 8 hours (when awake).
  • Bile-stained (green) or black vomit (sick) or blood in vomit.

Activity and body:

  • Soft spot on a baby's head is bulging.
  • Eyes look 'sunken'.
  • Child cannot be encouraged to show interest in anything.
  • Baby is floppy.
  • Weak, 'whining' or continuous crying in a younger child.
  • Less responsive, irritable, difficult to console.
  • Stiff neck, especially when trying to look up and down.
  • Parent or carer concerned that child is behaving differently from usual.

Symptoms in older children and adults

Early symptoms

Early symptoms of sepsis may include:

  • a high temperature or a low body temperature
  • chills and shivering
  • a fast heartbeat
  • problems with or changes to your breathing
  • feeling or acting differently from normal – you do not seem your usual self

Many of the symptoms of sepsis are also associated with meningitis.

The first symptoms of meningitis are often fever, vomiting, a headache and feeling unwell.

Meningitis and septicaemia in children and babies

Septic shock

In some cases, symptoms of more severe sepsis or septic shock develop soon after.

These can include:

  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • a change in mental state, such as confusion or disorientation
  • diarrhoea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • slurred speech
  • severe muscle pain
  • severe breathlessness
  • less urine production than normal – for example, not peeing for a day
  • feeling cold, clammy and pale 
  • loss of consciousness

When to get medical help

Seek medical advice urgently if you have recently had an infection or injury and have possible early signs of sepsis.

If sepsis is suspected, you'll usually be referred to hospital for further diagnosis and treatment.

Immediate action required: Immediate

Severe sepsis and septic shock are medical emergencies. If you have one of the symptoms go to the emergency department (ED) or call 999 for an ambulance.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.