New hope for preterm babies future health

November 16, 2017

Better baby health: researchers are stopping unnecessary antibiotics to preterm babies.

A new investigation into preterm baby health may have implications for future antimicrobial resistance.

Dr Andrew Currie is leading a research team from Murdoch University in partnership with neonatal consultant Tobias Strunk from King Edward Memorial Hospital to test the reliability of a diagnostic marker for sepsis infection in very preterm infants.

“Neonatal late onset sepsis (LOS) is an infection frequently occurring in very preterm infants,” Dr Currie said.

“More than 20 per cent of infants born earlier than 30 weeks gestation suffer from the dangerous condition, which worsens their outcomes and can even lead to death.”

Dr Currie said the condition typically presents with symptoms very similar to a number of less concerning conditions and confirmation of the diagnosis could take up to 48 hours. As a result, more than 60 percent of uninfected preterm infants were being treated with precautionary doses of antibiotics for a prolonged period of time.

“Antibiotics have a major impact on the development of infant gut microbiota with broad, potentially life-long consequences,” he said.

“Exposure to antibiotics of infants without infection increases their chances of poorer outcomes. Unwarranted use of antibiotics in early life has been linked to an increased risk in diseases such as obesity, diabetes, allergy and asthma, and unnecessary antibiotic use is a major driver in the alarming increase in resistance.”

Dr Currie’s team has identified a biological marker (sPLA2-IIA) that is showing great potential to identify babies who do not have LOS.

“If we can reliably and quickly identify infants who are not suffering from LOS, then we can cease precautionary antibiotic treatment much faster,” he said.

Spanning over the next two years, the researchers hope to see results translated into hospitals around the world as soon as possible.

The project is supported by the Telethon-Perth Children’s Hospital Research Fund.

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