BACKGROUND: Sepsis is a leading cause of death for children in the US and worldwide. There is a lack of consensus how sepsis is clinically defined, and sepsis definitions and diagnostic guidelines for the pediatric population have remained unchanged for more than a decade now. Current pediatric definitions are largely based on adult guidelines and expert opinion rather than evidence based on outcomes in the pediatric populations. Without a clear definition of sepsis, it is challenging to evaluate the performance of new laboratory tests on the diagnosis and management of sepsis. CONTENT: This review provides an overview of common etiologies of sepsis in pediatric populations, challenges in defining and diagnosing pediatric sepsis, and current laboratory tests used to identify and monitor sepsis. Strengths and limitations of emerging diagnostic strategies will also be discussed. SUMMARY: Currently there is no single biomarker that can accurately diagnose or predict sepsis. Current biomarkers such as C-reactive protein and lactate are neither sensitive nor specific for diagnosing sepsis. New biomarkers and rapid pathogen identification assays are much needed. Procalcitonin, although having some limitations, has emerged as a biomarker with demonstrated utility in management of sepsis in adults. Parallel studies analyzing the utility of procalcitonin in pediatric populations are lagging but have shown potential to affect sepsis care in pediatric populations. Multibiomarker approaches and stepwise algorithms show promise in the management of pediatric sepsis. However, a major hurdle is the lack of validated clinical criteria for classification of pediatric sepsis, which is necessary for the development of well-designed studies that can assess the clinical impact of these emerging biomarkers.
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