A newborn's immune system isn't adequately developed to fight infection. Therefore, any type of infection can be more critical for newborns than for older children or adults.

Serious bacterial infections, which occur in about two or three of 1,000 newborns, can invade any organ or the blood, urine or spinal fluid. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is necessary, but even with early diagnosis and treatment, a newborn infection can be life-threatening.

For this reason, doctors are cautious when treating a possible or suspected infection. Newborns who have difficulty breathing, are unusually sleepy, eat poorly, or have persistently high or low temperatures may have sepsis — the body's response to infection. Antibiotics often are given early, and their use is stopped only when an infection doesn't seem likely. Although the majority of the test results come back showing no evidence of infection, it's better to err on the side of safety by quickly treating a baby than to risk not treating a baby with an infection soon enough.

Viruses can cause infections in newborns, although they do so less often than bacterial infections do. Some viruses cause serious infection in the mother, and others may interfere with the growth and development of an unborn fetus. Certain viral infections such as herpes, varicella, HIV and cytomegalovirus may be treated with antiviral medication.

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