How are infections in a newborn baby treated?

One in four newborn babies with a bacterial infection die, even if given antibiotics, according to figures from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice). Babies can also be left with life-long injuries if an infection is not recognised and treated quickly enough.

Nice recommend faster diagnosis and immediate treatment with antibiotics to improve outcomes for newborn babies with bacterial infections, highlighting the importance of providing treatment within 1 hour of identifying an infection.

Viral infections can also be just as serious, with viral meningitis being one of the more common and potentially damaging types. Fungal and protozoan infections are also a possibility and all must be identified quickly and the appropriate treatment given to protect newborn babies.


Identifying babies at risk of infection

There are various factors that can increase the risk of a baby acquiring an infection within the first 72 hours after birth. These can include:

  • The mother has previously had a baby who had certain types of infections
  • The mother is an asymptomatic carrier for certain infections
  • The mother’s membrane broke before labour started
  • The baby is born more than 2 weeks premature
  • The mother has a fever with a temperature higher than 38 degrees Celsius

If your baby is at increased risk of your infection, the medical team handling your birth should advise you of this and they should take precautions to minimise the risk. They will also need to ensure your baby is carefully monitored for any signs of infection so the right treatment can be quickly given if required.


Treating infections in newborns

The treatment for an infection in a newborn will depend on the type of infection – for example, a bacterial infection will normally be treated with antibiotics, while a viral infection would need to be treated with antiviral medication. The outcome for your child will in large part depend on the medical team finding the right treatment for the specific infection your baby has.

A newborn baby with any type of serious infection is likely to be placed in your hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to make sure they have the round-the-clock monitoring and care that they need. How long they will spend in the NICU will depend on the severity of their infection and how well they respond to treatment.

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