Hospitals 'froze' 77 newborns at risk of death or disability

A record number of newborn babies were “frozen” last year to save them from dying and disability.

The babies, who suffered reduced oxygen or blood supply, underwent groundbreaking treatment involving induced hypothermia.

The treatment is given to cut the risks of fatality, disability or developing life-long cerebral palsy. Their core body temperature was reduced to 33C for 72 hours.

Lack of oxygen can lead to a gradual death of brain cells.

But the treatment helps to slow the production of harmful substances in the brain and the rate of brain cell death. The low temperature reduces the likelihood of cellular damage.

A HSE report said 77 infants had the treatment, which is regarded as the greatest single advance for newborns in the last 25 years. It is available in the three maternity hospitals in Dublin and Cork University Maternity Hospital.

Babies must be cooled within six hours of birth. After 72 hours the baby is rewarmed to normal body temperature over a six to 12 hour period.

Over 2016 and 2017 some one-in-900 infants born in Ireland received the treatment.

Out of 140 infants treated over two years, 17 died.

Nearly half had been born by caesarean section. Some 40pc of the infants were transferred from a regional or local hospital. The report said the effectiveness of the treatment in preventing brain damage was a welcome development. It benefits one in seven infants.

The majority of the infants when born had a diagnosis of encephalopathy, which involves signs of lethargy or coma. Two-thirds of the infants who needed transfer had a core temperature of between 33 degrees and 34 degrees on leaving their referring hospital. It said that 78.9pc of the babies achieved the optimum temperature within six hours of birth.

The report has a number of recommendations including ongoing review of the babies.

There is a need for regular updates and drills to ensure optimum management of a complex obstetric situation.

All of these infants should have a formal neuro-developmental assessment at two years of age.

The report said there may be scope to identify maternal risk factors which could be mitigated during the antenatal period.

It said the treatment is rare in babies delivered by planned caesarean section. Therefore it is likely that the events of labour play an important role in contributing to the babies’ condition.

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