Newborn

Premature birth is a serious disease

In recent days, the news of new deaths in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Spedali Civili in Brescia has caused a sensation.

To clarify and avoid easy conclusions, the President of the Italian Society of Neonatology ( SIN ), Prof. Fabio Mosca spoke on the subject according to which prematurity is a serious disease and survival should never be taken for granted:

“Preterm births, particularly if extremely premature, risk their lives every minute, but in Italy the mortality rate for those weighing less than 1500 grams is among the lowest in the world. In our country, the latest available data show, in fact, a mortality rate of 11.3% compared to 14.3% in the most important Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) in the world (data provided by the Vermont Oxford Network) and continues to decrease, thanks to the very high level of assistance achieved by our TINs.

However, the fragility of these newborns and the many variables that, starting from pregnancy, can influence their prognosis, identify prematurity as a serious disease . The survival of every child born prematurely is a success that should not be taken for granted and tragic complications are possible even when things seem to be improving, as happened in the case of little Marco in Brescia.”

The children died in Brescia from sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis which represent two of the most dangerous pathologies for premature babies. Investigations are currently underway by the Ministry of Health to shed light on what happened and formalize the reasons for the deaths.

Why are premature babies so fragile?

In the world, according to data from the World Health Organization, complications related to premature birth are the leading cause of death in children under the age of 5. Of these deaths, 40% are due to infections.

Babies born prematurely are more susceptible to infections because they are born with an immature immune system and therefore are vulnerable to attack by bacteria and viruses, even those considered harmless to us adults.

The more the birth is premature, the more the risk of infections increases: let us remember that the transfer of immune protection from the mother to the fetus occurs above all in the last weeks of pregnancy.

Furthermore, we must not underestimate the invasive treatments to which preterm infants are subjected so that they can survive. Intravascular catheters, mechanical ventilation, drainage, etc., while on the one hand they are life-saving procedures, on the other they constitute further but inevitable risk factors for infections.

The Italian Society of Neonatology expresses its closeness above all to the parents, but also to the doctors and nurses who took care of the deceased little patients, because it is well aware of the deep pain one feels when, despite all the treatments put in place, the he evolution of the “prematurity disease” is not favourable.

“When parents entrust their children to us, we treat them as if they were our own children, guaranteeing them the utmost attention and professionalism, because we consider the well-being of every newborn and the survival of premature babies to be the primary reason for being doctors. If we really want to put the newborn at the center of the future” concludes Mosca, “we must first of all aim to reduce the causes of prematurity and continue to improve assistance with the aim of making this population less and less vulnerable.”

The importance of prevention

Can premature births be avoided? In many cases yes, there are in fact some well-known and recurring causes  including cigarette smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, or some vaginal infections.

It is imperative that the woman undergoes routine checkups and further additional tests if any problems are suspected.

Kathryn Barlow is an OB/GYN doctor, which is the medical specialty that deals with the care of women's reproductive health, including pregnancy and childbirth.

Obstetricians provide care to women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, while gynecologists focus on the health of the female reproductive system, including the ovaries, uterus, vagina, and breasts. OB/GYN doctors are trained to provide medical and surgical care for a wide range of conditions related to women's reproductive health.

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