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Still Unknowns About Leading Cause of Infant Death

PHOTO: Itís World Prematurity Day, and efforts are under way in Ohio to raise awareness about the frequency of prematurity, its consequences and the need for continued research. Photo credit: Bobjgalindo/Wikimedia.
PHOTO: Itís World Prematurity Day, and efforts are under way in Ohio to raise awareness about the frequency of prematurity, its consequences and the need for continued research. Photo credit: Bobjgalindo/Wikimedia.
November 17, 2014

CINCINNATI - Premature birth is the leading cause of infant mortality in Ohio and the United States, but despite improving technology, the cause goes unexplained in nearly half of all preterm births. About one-in-eight infants is born prematurely, and the rates are higher in the U.S. than in many other parts of the world.

Dr. Louis Muglia, a professor of pediatrics with the Center for the Prevention of Preterm Birth at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, says they are working with local and state groups to build better understanding and prevention.

"There are things we can do to minimize the likelihood of a pregnancy ending early," says Muglia. "There is an obvious need for further understanding of the mechanisms of preterm birth, so we can devise even better methods of prevention."

A premature birth is a delivery before 37 weeks gestation. Muglia says these infants face a multitude of issues, including problems with lung development, cognitive impairment, gastrointestinal issues and hearing loss. Preterm birth also is linked to problems in adulthood, such as hypertension and diabetes.

Muglia says mothers who had a previous preterm birth are more than two times more likely to be preterm in their second pregnancy. He adds, ethnicity also appears to play a factor.

"There is about a twofold increase rate of preterm birth in African-American moms," says Muglia. "Even when you take into account their relative level of wealth, their education level, and other health behaviors. So it's unclear really what the drivers of that are."

There are interventions now that were not available a decade ago to prevent premature births. Muglia says the use of progesterone supplements in women who had a prior premature birth can cut down the risk of a second by almost half and he says current research efforts continue to help identify new ways to optimize pregnancy outcomes.

"Relatively new genetic studies show association of specific genetic variance with risk for preterm birth," says Muglia. "There is some exciting new data on the role of bacteria that colonize our bodies in shaping our risk for preterm birth that is just beginning to emerge."

Today is World Prematurity Day.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH