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Premature Babies Are More Prone To Childhood Infections: Study

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Premature babies are more prone to childhood infections, a new study has found.

Not being able to reach the normal birth weight even with just a single line difference in the weighing scale puts a child at a more increased risk of childhood infections. The same goes for those who are almost at the verge of reaching term, but are technically still considered slightly premature.

Prematurity and low birthweight are commonly linked with a higher risk of developing newborn infections. However, the risk as the baby grows into late childhood and into adolescence has not yet been established. This elusive part of research is particularly true among the late preterm and near-normal birthweight infants.

Now, researchers from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and Perth's Telethon Kids Institute are able to provide an answer. They found that the effects of being slightly premature or having a near-normal birthweight may still transcend up until adolescence.

"Our study shows that the health implications of being born even slightly premature and underweight can last throughout childhood," says study lead author David Burgner.

Investigating Real People

The research team conducted a population-based study using information from the Western Australia Birth Register. The databank consists of all liveborn, non-Indigenous Australians from Jan. 1, 1980 to Dec. 31, 2010.

They followed up the participants from discharge up to either the age of 18, their death or at the end of the year 2010. They then linked the data collated to subsequent hospital admissions or death notices.

The team found that out of the 719,311 babies, 365,867 infection-related hospitalizations occurred in 213,683 (30 percent) children.

Also, out of the 719,311 subjects, 137,124 (19 percent) experienced at least one infection-related hospitalization, 43,796 (6 percent) had two, 16,679 (2 percent) had three and 16,084 (2 percent) had four or more.

Ultimately, the team found that the babies were 12 percent more likely to be admitted due to infection for each week that they were born before the 39th or 40th week of pregnancy (term).

The children were also 19 percent more likely to be admitted to the hospital because of infection for each 500 gram reduction in birth weight below 3 to 3.5 kilograms (6.6 to 7.7 pounds) (normal birthweight).

Lastly, the team also discovered that babies were 41 percent more prone to infection-related admissions for each 5 centimeter decline in birth length from 45 to 50 centimeters, which is the normal value.

Burgner says the hospital admissions were more noted in children born before the 28th age of gestation and the said risk continued even until the subjects reached the age of 18.

Implications Of Study Results

The research findings signify the great need to create plans to extend pregnancy as much as possible so that babies continue to grow optimally inside the womb. This will decrease the risk of premature births and low birth weight.

Burgner also says that experts need to improve their monitoring of children at risk to reduce severe infections among the concerned group.

Nick de Klerk from the Telethon Kids Institute says the study was the most in-depth analysis made to date about the impacts of gestational age, birthweight and birth length on the risk of infectious diseases during childhood and teenage years.

de Klerk adds that the results are of specific relevance to families living in low-income and middle-income nations, where about 43.3 million babies are born with low birthweight, small for gestational age, or are premature.

The study was published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases on April 1.

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