A bacterial infection may be a primary cause of extremely premature births, researchers report, a finding that could lead to new ways to prevent the dangerous deliveries.
“We’re very excited about these findings. The prematurity rate in this country hasn’t really decreased in the last 40 years,” said Sharon L. Hillier, a research assistant professor at the University of Washington in Seattle.
About 7% of pregnant women give birth prematurely, with about 1% giving birth very prematurely--after only an average of 30 weeks. Such babies have a greatly increased risk for a variety of medical complications.
In a new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Hillier and her colleagues compared 56 women who gave birth very prematurely to the same number of women who gave birth on schedule. More than half the women who delivered very early had evidence they were suffering chorioamnionitis, which is an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the amniotic fluid and placenta caused by a bacterial infection, the researchers reported. Only about 20% of the women who gave birth on time had evidence of the infection, the researchers said.
“We conclude from that that this infection may be an important cause of premature birth,” Hillier said.