Scientists discover bacteria that causes life-threatening lung disease in 70% of premature babies - and an existing antibiotic could treat it
A three-day course of widely available antibiotics could dramatically lower the risk of deaths among premature babies, a study has found.
Premature babies often have a type of bacteria in their nasal passage, throat or lungs called ureaplasma, which they can pick up in the womb or during birth.
It's believed that bacteria can be the cause of early birth, by causing membranes to rupture.
A new study published today lays bare how devastating this bacteria can be: it causes severe lung infection in more than two-thirds of preemies (67 percent), which proves fatal in almost a third of them (29 percent).
But the researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore also found that an already-available antibiotic cut babies' risk of death from 86 percent to 33 percent - an even bigger drop than they had anticipated.
A new study published today lays bare how devastating this bacteria can be: it causes severe lung infection in more than two-thirds of preemies, which proves fatal in almost a third of them
'I have been studying the association between ureaplasma respiratory infection and bronchopulmonary dysplasia for more than 20 years,' said lead author Rose Marie Viscardi, MD, a professor of pediatrics, who is presenting her work in Paris this weekend.
'This study shows that ureaplasma respiratory infection is very common in extremely premature infants and clinicians should consider testing for this infection in those newborns who are at risk.'
Dr. Viscardi's study tracked 121 babies born between 24 and 28 weeks' gestation.
The babies were all tested for ureaplasma bacteria, then half of them were given a three-day course of azithromycin (20 mg per kg of the baby's weight per day). The rest were given a placebo.
The babies were tested again after the treatment, then followed for a year.
Just over a third (36 percent) of the cohort of babies in the study had ureaplasma bacteria. Looking specifically at premature babies, the proportion was much higher at almost half (45 percent).
The researchers found the most premature babies who had ureaplasma in their system had a 67 percent risk of developing severe respiratory problems over the next year, compared to 21 percent of full-term babies who had the bacteria in their nasal passage.
However, those who took a three-day course of azithromycin saw their risk of death from the bacteria from 86 percent to 33 percent.
Azithromycin is a commonly-prescribed antibiotic for all kinds of infections, including gonorrhea.
The most widely-distributed form of the drug is Zithromax by Pfizer.
Dr Viscardi says the study shows that a three-day course can be safe and effective for newborns, even preemies.
But, she warns that more research is needed.
'There is not yet enough evidence to recommend routine treatment of ureaplasma respiratory infection and we are planning a larger clinical trial to address this question.'