Six hundred and eighty two assessments were performed on 641 babies under 6 months of age who presented to the emergency department of the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, to try and determine the best markers of serious illness in young infants. Detailed, specific questions that quantified a baby's functional response to illness gave the most useful information. As a group, the six most common predictive symptoms of serious illness were: taking less than half the normal amount of feed over the preceding 24 hours, breathing difficulty, having less than four wet nappies in the preceding 24 hours, decreased activity, drowsiness, and a history of being both pale and hot. The presence of the corresponding sign on examination increased the predictive value of the symptom by 10-20%. Specific, highly predictive (though less common) signs included moderate to severe chest wall recession, respiratory grunt, cold calves, and a tender abdomen. A list of low, medium, and high risk symptoms has been constructed and the five measurements that were most useful in predicting serious illness in young infants have been detailed.
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