9 Common Infant Infections You Should Look Out For

Welcoming a newborn into your family for the first time brings about a heap of emotions. You’re happy and excited, but at the same time always worried and on your toes You jump at every whimper and smile at every gurgle. Babies are a bundle of joy, but they will require your care and protection before they can grow up into healthy adults.

Infections in newborn babies are something you have to look out for. While they are very common, some of these infections can be very serious and your infant can deteriorate very rapidly.

More commonly, however, the onset is subtle and the features may be vague. Some new parents could miss it and not take action until it’s too late. This is why you need to learn to recognise the common symptoms of these infections in your baby and seek medical advice if you’re unsure, even in the middle of the night. Don’t worry, there will be doctors on call in most hospitals.

Symptoms of Infant Infections to Watch Out For 

Common symptoms that may suggest infection in infancy include:

  • refusal of feeds
  • lethargy
  • floppy (unresponsive)
  • apnoea (cessation of breathing)
  • fever (usually higher than 37.5°C)

If your baby has the above symptoms, you need to seek medical advice immediately.

The following are some other common infections that may be present during the first year of your baby’s life.

1. Omphalitis

This is infection of the umbilicus.
Symptoms: redness around the umbilicus or green, yellow discharge from the umbilicus.
Treatment: Initial cleaning with alcohol swabs three times daily may be sufficient to control the infection. However if this is not better after two days, medical advice should be obtained.

2. Conjunctivitis

Symptoms: The eye(s) may be red, swollen with green discharge.
Treatment: This usually requires prompt treatment following an eye swab. Common eye drops used are fucithalmic or gentamicin drops. If left untreated, scarring of the cornea and rupture of the eyeball may occur in some cases.

3. Breast abscess

Symptoms: This is a red, painful swelling involving the whole breast. There are usually enlarged glands in the axilla on the same side.
Treatment: Surgical drainage together with antibiotics is usually required.

4. Common cold

Also knows as (upper respiratory tract infection), this is probably the most common infection in the first year of life, especially for those with siblings at home or those sent to daycare centres.

Symptoms: The infant typically presents a blocked nose and displays poor feeding.
Treatment: Symptomatic relief may be obtained from nose drops and a mild antihistamine.

5. Otitis media

This is infection in the middle ear.

Symptoms: Fever, irritability or even ear discharge.
Treatment: Symptomatic treatment with paracetamol and antibiotics may be required.

6. Bronchiolitis

This is an infection of the smaller branches of the airway of the lungs and tends to occur in the rainy months in Malaysia.

Symptoms: Typically, the infant could have wheezing and difficulty breathing. In moderately severe cases, refusal of feeds may occur.
Treatment: Admission to hospital is indicated for those who are unable to finish feeds, those having blue episodes and drowsiness.

7. Pneumonia

This is inflammation of the lung alveoli. Usually one segment of the lung is affected.

Symptoms: Cough, fever and breathing difficulty are common features.
Treatment: A chest x-ray is usually needed to confirm the diagnosis. This should be treated in hospital with antibiotics and some infants may require oxygen.

8. Urinary tract infection

This is more common in girls than boys due to the difference of anatomical length of the urethra.

Symptoms: Fever or generally unwell. Sometimes, diarrhoea may be present.
Treatment: The diagnosis is confirmed with a clean catch urine sample. The treatment is with antibiotics. This can usually be done at home, although if the baby is fretful, has high fever and not feeding well, intravenous antibiotics may be needed.

9. Meningitis

This is infection of the lining of the brain.

Symptoms: Fever, irritability, drowsiness and vomiting are common.
Treatment: The baby needs to be admitted to hospital for a lumbar puncture to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment is by intravenous antibiotics. There are now vaccines to prevent the two most common organisms that cause meningitis in Malaysia (HiB and pneumococcal vaccines).

[Learn more about mandatory vaccinations in Malaysia]


Contributed by Dr Yong Sin Chuen, Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist

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