Extremely low birth weight infants--the tiniest category of premature infants--are much more likely to experience developmental impairments if they acquire an infection during the newborn period, according to a study by the Neonatal Research Network of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one of the National Institutes of Health. The developmental impairments were seen regardless of the type of infection--whether it occurred in the brain, blood or intestines.
The study was conducted by Barbara J. Stoll, M.D., of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia and her colleague. Appearing in the November 17 Journal of the American Medical Association, the study reported that 65 percent of a group of extremely low birth weight infants had developed at least one infection during their hospitalizations after birth. These infants were more likely to have an impairment than were infants who had not developed an infection. "This study shows us that successfully treating an extremely low birth weight infants infection does not automatically ensure that the infant will do well," said NICHD Director Duane Alexander, M.D. "Parents and health care workers need to monitor these children carefully as they grow, and be ready to provide them with developmental and educational services, if necessary."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 60,326 very low birth weight infants born in 2002, or 1.46 percent of the 4,021,726 total births for that year. Infants are classified as low birth weight if they are born weighing less than 2500 grams (about 5.5 pounds) and very low birth weight if they weigh less than1500 grams (about3.3 pounds). In the current study, the researchers analyzed the records of extremely low birth weight (ELBW) infants--those weighing less than 1000grams, or 2.2 pounds. Yearly statistics are not compiled on ELBW infants. Study co-author Rosemary Higgins, M.D., of NICHDs Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch, estimated that as many as 50 percent of newborns below 1500 grams may fall into the ELBW category.
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