Although all newborns are at an increased risk of developing infections, this is particularly true of premature babies because their immune systems haven't fully matured. As a result, they may not be able to adequately fight off bacteria, fungi, viruses and other organisms that can cause infections.

Some babies are born with infections they got from their mothers, while others develop infections from the environment, especially those who have a vascular catheter. Microorganisms that normally live on the skin may cause infection if they enter the body through these catheters or other tubes inserted into the baby's body. However, these catheters and tubes are often necessary so the baby can receive required nutrition and medications, and to allow a painless way to draw blood for tests.

There are various infections that can affect premature babies, including:

  • Sepsis, a blood infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Meningitis, infection of the membranes surrounding the brain

Infections are usually treated with antibiotics or antiviral drugs.

Because newborns are so susceptible to germs, visitors to the William H. Tooley Intensive Care Nursery at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital will be asked to wash their hands before and after touching babies. Anyone who is sick should not visit.