How to Prevent a Neonatal Infection

June 9, 2019
Prevention is the key to preventing a neonatal infection such as sepsis, which can be lethal to a baby.

A neonatal infection, or sepsis, is a serious condition that affects newborn babies and that, if not treated in a timely manner, may lead to a tragic outcome.

Do you know what we’re talking about?

If not, continue reading to find out why it happens. Also, we’ll explain a little about how it can be prevented, and what its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment are.

What’s a Neonatal Infection?

Bacteria in the blood: neonatal infection.
A newborn is more prone to develop infections due to a lack of maturation in his or her immune system.

A neonatal infection, also known as sepsis, is a blood infection that occurs in newborns and in babies younger than 90 days. Sepsis may appear during their first week (early onset) or between 7 and 90 days after birth (late onset).

In both cases, sepsis occurs due to:

  • The presence of bacteria, such as E. coli.
  • Certain strains of streptococci (group B – GBS).
  • The herpes simplex virus (HSV).

Early-Onset Neonatal Infection

Usually, the condition occurs between 24 and 48 hours after a baby’s birth. This is because they’re exposed to the bacteria immediately before they’re born or during delivery.

The risk factors that increase the chances of the child suffering from sepsis are:

Premature Delivery

If this happens, the risks increases with:

  • The presence of group B streptococci during pregnancy.
  • Infection of the amniotic fluid and/or the placenta.

Read also: All About Preeclampsia, a Complication of Pregnancy

Late-Onset Neonatal Infection

In these cases, the infection occurs shortly after delivery. This may be either because the baby had to remain in the hospital or because s/he’s had a catheter placed over a long period of time.

Prevention of Neonatal Infection

A woman lying with her newborn.

As always, prevention is better than cure. For this reason, we’ll list the best measures to prevent a neonatal infection. Take note.

1. Antibiotic Treatment for the Pregnant Woman

If the mother-to-be suffers from conditions such as chorioamnionitis (an infection of the amniotic fluid and the placenta) or group B streptococcus, or if she has given birth in the past to a baby who had sepsis, the mother should be treated to prevent early-onset neonatal infection.

In the event that a pregnant woman has any type of ongoing infection, including the herpes simplex virus, she should be treated for it. In fact, doctors will recommend treatment for a pregnant woman not to get infected or develop any kind of infection.

2. Asepsy in the Place of Birth

Hygiene in the place where the baby is born is essential to keep bacteria away from a newborn. Keep in mind that babies are highly vulnerable during the post-birth months.

3. Prevent Delay of Birth after Water Breakage

When the water breaks, the delivery must follow within the next 12 -24 hours in order to prevent contamination.

Do not miss: Should I Have a C-Section or Vaginal Delivery?

Symptoms of a Neonatal Infection

A newborn crying.
When in doubt, consult your pediatrician.

In general, preventive measures are essential to prevent the onset of sepsis. Nonetheless, it’s important to know the symptoms to be alert:

  • Parts of the baby’s skin and sclera (the white part of the eyes) are yellow (this is known as jaundice)
  • Decreased movement, lack of energy and enthusiasm even during breastfeeding
  • Convulsions
  • Trouble breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Low blood sugar
  • An increase in temperature.

If you notice any of the above symptoms or of any other condition after you return home from the hospital, then you should consult a pediatrician. Don’t be alarmed, this is just about making sure things are alright.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A baby being checked with a stethoscope.
Treatment for infection should be applied as fast as possible in order to ensure a speedy recovery.

The pediatrician will look for the presence of any of the symptoms described above and, most likely, take samples and send them to the lab for analysis such as:

  • A blood test that will usually require analysis of the C-reactive protein (CRP), the white blood cell count and a blood culture.
  • Also, a doctor may want to examine the cerebrospinal fluid to determine whether or not there are bacteria present in the baby’s system. If so, a lumbar puncture will be done.
  • In addition, cultures can be analyzed from a stool, urine, and even skin samples.
  • If there are any respiratory problems, a diagnostic chest x-ray should be performed.
  • Also, treatment for infants under one month who have a fever or any other sign of infection requires administering intravenous antibiotics immediately, even before having a confirmed diagnosis.
  • If the mother previously had any of the infections mentioned above, then the baby should receive treatment even if they don’t have any symptoms. Further, if the infection is caused by herpes, then the doctor will probably prescribe an antiviral medication.
  • Finally, if the test results are normal, then the baby can go home. However, there should be follow-up visits.

Neonatal infections are very serious as they can be deadly for a baby. For this reason, doctors tend to monitor pregnancies rather closely. They are in fact, trying to prevent the appearance of sepsis and ensure the safety of a mother and her child.

  • Committee on Infectious Diseases; Committee on Fetus and Newborn, Baker CJ, Byington CL, Polin RA.. Policy Statement: Recommendations for the Prevention of Perinatal Group B Streptococcal (GBS) Disease. Pediatrics. 2011;128(3):611-616. PMID: 21807694 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21807694.
  • Baley JE, Gonzalez BE. Perinatal viral infections. In Martin RJ, Fanaroff AA, Walsh MC, eds. Fanaroff and Martin’s Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 57.
  • Leonard EG, Dobbs K. Postnatal bacterial infections. In Martin RJ, Fanaroff AA, Walsh MC, eds. Fanaroff and Martin’s Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 55.
  • Verani JR, McGee L, Schrag SJ; Division of Bacterial Diseases, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevention of Perinatal Group B Streptococcal Disease, Revised Guidelines from CDC, 2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2010;59(RR-10):1-36. PMID: 21088663 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21088663.
    Ultima revisión 4/24/2017