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Cerebral Palsy Rate Dropping In Preterm Infants

March 17, 2011

According to a new study, the rate of cerebral palsy among preterm infants may be lower now compared to 20 years ago.

Cerebral palsy is a group of conditions that permanently damage movement, balance and posture.  The conditions can be mild to more severe, such as mental retardation and an inability to walk.

A new study by researchers at the University of Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands found that between 1990 and 2005, cerebral palsy rates dropped among preterm infants treated in their neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

According to the findings, 2.2. percent of 913 newborns admitted to the NICU between 2002 and 2005 were diagnosed with cerebral palsy.  This rate was compared to 6.5 percent of 755 infants from 1990 to 1993.

Researchers said that the decline seemed to be related to a 93 percent drop in the number of preterm infants with severe damage to the white matter of the newborn’s brain.  This condition is commonly caused by infections in the mother.

Dr. Londa de Vries, the lead researcher of the project, told Reuters that one of the factors found to be protective against cerebral palsy was giving antibiotics to mothers in preterm labor.

The researchers said that improvements in prenatal care in recent years likely deserve the credit for the declining rate of cerebral palsy.  Those improvements include corticosteroids to mothers who are at risk of preterm labor.

“Over the years we have seen a decline in the number of infants needing ventilation after delivery,” de Vries told Reuters.  As fewer newborn preemies have needed to be placed on ventilators, fewer have developed brain damage resulting in cerebral palsy.

De Vries said that the findings are “indeed good news.”

“Parents and their children can therefore benefit from being born in a developed country with access to good (prenatal) and neonatal care with experienced members of staff,” she told Reuters.

De Vries said that although the findings are from one medical center, there is similar evidence from other countries.  She said that a recent Canadian study found a declining prevalence of cerebral palsy over 30 years.

U.S. researchers reported last month that among the 6.2 million births in California between 1991 and 2001, black infants were about 30 percent more likely than white babies to have cerebral palsy. 

The overall prevalence of cerebral palsy was 1.4 cases for every 1,000 live births.

The team speculated that better prenatal care for black mothers, especially teenagers, might help close the racial gap in low birth weight.

The study was published in The Journal of Pediatrics on March 3, 2011

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