Early diagnosis and treatment of sepsis and septic shock in children results in improved outcomes. However, diagnosis is hampered by lack of specific diagnostic tests and relies on the recognition of the alterations of vital signs and protean systemic manifestations associated with infections, signs that mimic many critical illnesses. As a result, the early diagnosis of sepsis is usually presumptive and is based on the suspicion or presence of an infection in combination with the systemic changes. Suspicion should be heightened in vulnerable risk groups such as those with immune compromise due to underlying disease or medication use. Thus, on many occasions, treatment of sepsis is initiated on clinical suspicion pending the outcomes of ongoing evaluations and laboratory findings.
What is of relevance to the emergency clinicians is the initial recognition, resuscitation, and treatment in the first few hours of presentation. To best accomplish these tasks, contemporary guidelines suggest that the use of a “recognition bundle” containing a trigger tool for rapid identification, a “resuscitation and stabilization bundle” to enable adherence to best practice, and a “performance bundle” to identify and overcome barriers to best practice be used.
Although there are no universally acceptable tools to accomplish these tasks, the various iterations used in quality improvement initiatives have consistently demonstrated better care processes and outcomes. In this article, we outline the contemporary approach to sepsis in the first hours after presentation.