Health Alert: Spotting Neonatal Sepsis - - Columbia, South Carolina

Health Alert: Spotting Neonatal Sepsis

NATIONAL - Sepsis is a life-threatening infection, especially when it strikes premature babies. By the time symptoms develop, the infant is already very sick. Now a new test may detect the infection almost before it starts.

Jeremiah Reynolds doesn't like waiting for anything - including his own birth. Jessica Reynolds says, "His due date was June the Fifth and he was born April First."

The problem with that is babies born prematurely run all kinds of health risks, including sepsis, a life-threatening bacterial infection in the blood. Dr. John Kattwinkel says, "Once they develop it, they don't fight it as well either. And so the earlier you can detect it, the better."

Now, thanks to a breakthrough test, doctors may be able to spot sepsis in preemies before symptoms ever start.

Dr. Kattwinkel says, "As early as 12 and in some cases as early as 24 hours before we suspected things clinically, it had raised some red flags."

Researchers at the University of Virginia developed the test after studying the heart rates of premature infants. Dr. Randall Moorman says, "It was very easy to spot that in the hours or sometimes even the days prior to the baby becoming sick, or anybody could tell that they were sick, that there were these obvious changes in the way the heart rate behaved."

A standard EKG can't detect the changes. So doctors designed a computer program that continually analyzes heartbeats to predict infection. Dr. Moorman says, "There's an infant in the NICU, the infant is doing fine. The monitor suddenly starts to show an increased value interpreted as increased risk of upcoming illness. A blood test is done and to everyone's surprise, bacteria are growing in that baby's blood."

A dose of antibiotics kills the bacteria before the baby even gets sick. It's speedy infection control that even Jeremiah would appreciate.

The changes in heart rate that can signal sepsis infection include decreased variability of heart rate along with brief episodes of slowing of the heart rate. A multi-site study is underway to see if the monitoring system improves the outcome for premature babies.

For information about the study, click here then type the trial identification number in the search box: nct00307333.

Posted by Chantelle Janelle

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