Question 10

A two-week-old baby is brought to your general ICU in extremis pending transfer to a paediatric centre. Born at term, she had been discharged well on day 5 of life. For three days she has had progressive tachypnoea, lethargy and failure to feed, and has now presented after a seizure. She has been intubated in the Emergency Department.

Blood tests taken on air prior to intubation show:

Parameter Patient Value Normal Adult range
pH 7.04* 7.35 – 7.45
PCO2 14 mmHg (1.9 kPa)* 35 – 45 (4.6 – 6.0)
PO2 80 mmHg (10.5 kPa)  
Bicarbonate 5 mmol/L* 22 – 28
Lactate 8 mmol/L* <2
Glucose 0.9 mmol/L* 3.5 – 6.1
WCC 14.7 x 109 /L* 4.0 – 11.0
Neutrophils 27% .
Lymphocytes 70% .
ALT 1600 U/L* 10 – 55
AST 2200 U/L* 10 – 40

a)  List, in broad terms, the key differential diagnoses for this presentation. (20% marks)

b)  Outline your approach to differentiating between these diagnoses.  (30% marks)

c)  Outline principles of early management pending transfer.  (50% marks)

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College Answer


  • Inborn error of metabolism
  •  Sepsis (viral likely)
  • Cardiac disease- especially duct dependent disease
  • Trauma (NAI)
  • Drugs / Toxins



  • Exposure to ill persons including siblings and parents.“Colds”, chicken pox and maternal herpes should be specifically solicited.
  • Maternal Group B Strep swab should be reviewed
  • Injury
  • Cyanotic spells
  • Apnoeas
  • Family history including infant deaths, inborn errors of metabolism (IEMs), cardiac disease, degree of consanguinity


  • General exam – trauma, rash
  • Liver edge (failure, hepatitis)
  • Murmurs
  • Femoral pulses


  • CXR
  • ECG
  • Ammonia
  • Urine amino and organic acids (if can’t be processed, take while acidotic and store)
  • Cultures if not done
  • Consider skeletal survey if any suggestion of injury
  • Cranial ultrasound (widely available)
  • Echo if available


  • Ongoing liaison with receiving centre.
  • Restore then maintain BSL using 10% Glucose (2.5-5ml/kg 10% glucose bolus then 6mg/kg/min infusion.)
  • Restore intravascular volume (even post FEAST fluid bolus reasonable)
  • Direct therapy if specific pathology found- e.g. alprostadil infusion if evidence of duct dependent cardiac disease
  • Empiric antibiotics
  • Empiric antiviral given results above (acyclovir or ganciclovir)
  • Nil protein intake till initial metabolic results in- maintain on glucose as above
  • Lung protective ventilation
  • General ICU housekeeping.


a) Differentials for this shock-like presentation:

Differential Diagnosis of Paediatric Shock and Metabolic Acidosis
Domain Neonate/infant age group Children older than 12 months
  • Cardiac tamponade following congenial defect repair
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Cardiac tamponade and pulmonary embolism 
  • Bacterial sepsis (eg. Gp B strep)
  • Viral illness 
  • Hypovolemia due to dehydration via diarrhoea, vomiting or failure to feed
  • Bacterial sepsis
  • Viral illness 
  • Immune compromise due to lymphoma or leukaemia
  • Hypovolemia due to dehydration via diarrhoea, vomiting or decreased oral intae
  • Accidental overdose through maternal excretion into milk
  • Accidental overdose
  • Heart defect, especially duct-dependent disease
  • Complications of previously stable heart defect (eg. "Eisenmongerisation" of the right heart)
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Haemorrhage
  • Neurogenic (eg. cord section)
  • Tension pneumothorax 
  • Haemorrhage
  • Neurogenic (eg. cord section)
or metabolic
  • Metabolic pathway defect
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hypoadrenalism
  • Severe ketoacidosis
  • Metabolic pathway defect

b) Assessment of this shock state:

Generic to the infant/paediatric population


  • Fever, feeding, urine output, diarrhoea, vomiting
  • Irritability, lethargy
  • Trauma
  • Potential for ingestion 
  • Vaccination history
  • Unwell contacts


  • Temperature
  • Level of consciousness
  • Peripheral perfusion, capillary refill
  • Rash
  • Skin turgor
  • Mucous membranes
  • Pulses
  • Heart rate, rhythm
  • Blood pressure
  • Respiratory rate


  • CXR
  • ECG
  • ABG for lactate
  • FBC and blood film
  • BSL
  • EUCs, LFTs
  • Blood cultures
  • TTE
Specific for the neonatal population:
  • Maternal Group B strep swab history
  • Maternal chicken pox or herpes history
  • Rapid breathing, sweating, tiring or cyanosis while feeding
  • Antenatal care (any?)
  • History of infant death in the family
  • Cosanguineity
  • Inborn errors of metabolism
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Cardiac murmurs
  • Abdominal distension (eg. pyloric stenosis)
  • Differential cyanosis (PDA)
  • Ammonia level
  • Urinary amino acid and organic acid screen
  • Cranial ultrasound

c) Approach to management, which is very generic:

  1. Assess the need for intubation.
    - At this stage, senior assistance from somebody expert in paediatric critical care is required, as the intubation may be difficult.
  2. Administer 100% oxygen.
  3. Establish venous access.
    - Give a 20ml/kg bolus, FEAST be damned.
    - Inotropes and vasopressors if no longer fluid-responsive
    - Parameters guiding resuscitation (eg. lactate, haemodynamic variables, urine output) differ little from adult standards
  4. Sedation and analgesia to support tolerance of invasive therapies
    (also decreases demands on the cardiac output)
  5. Electrolyte correction
  6. Maintenance fluid:  As per college answer, "add 100 ml of 50% dextrose to 900 ml 0.9% NaCl and infuse this at 2/3 maintenance rate (16 ml/hr in this case) (accept 24 ml/hr for 1st 48 hours)".
    - A urinary catheter will also be required.
  7. No protein in diet until metabolic screen is cleared
    - Maintain normoglycaemia with infusion of 10% dextrose of dextrose-rich maintenance fluid
  8. Blood transfusion may not be warranted
  9. Empiric antibiotics if sepsis is suspected, within 1 hour.
    - Cultures of blood and urine.
    - Consider antivirals if there is suspicion of viral meningitis or encephalitis


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