Hypothermia: A Sign of Sepsis in Young Infants in the Emergency Department?

Pediatr Emerg Care. 2021 Mar 1;37(3):e124-e128. doi: 10.1097/PEC.0000000000001539.


Objectives: Diagnosis of sepsis in young infants can be challenging due to the nonspecific signs, which can include hypothermia. Whether the presence of hypothermia in young infants should prompt evaluation for serious infection is unclear. The objectives were to measure the prevalence of serious infection among infants ≤60 days of age with hypothermia in the emergency department (ED) and determine other clinical features of hypothermic infants who have serious infection.

Methods: This is a retrospective analysis of all infants ≤60 days seen in a children's hospital ED from April 2014 to February 2017. Primary outcome was presence of serious infection, defined as urinary tract infection, bacteremia, meningitis, pneumonia, or herpes virus infection. Hypothermia was defined as a rectal temperature of 36.0°C or less.

Results: Of 4797 infants ≤60 days of age seen in the ED, 116 had hypothermia. The prevalence of serious infection was 2.6% (3/116) in hypothermic infants compared with 15.2% (61/401) in febrile infants (P < 0.01). Hypothermic infants with serious infections were more likely to have a history of prematurity, apnea, poor feeding, lethargy, ill-appearance, and respiratory signs than hypothermic infants without serious infection. All 3 hypothermic infants with serious infection had other concerning features.

Conclusions: The prevalence of serious infection in hypothermic young infants in the ED is low. Serious infection is unlikely in infants with isolated hypothermia.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia* / epidemiology
  • Infant
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sepsis* / epidemiology
  • Urinary Tract Infections*