Cold Treatment Protects Against Infant Disability and Death from Oxygen Loss
By lowering an oxygen-deprived newborn's body temperature to about 92 degrees Fahrenheit within the first six hours of life the chances of death or disability are significantly reduced.
Schmalfeldt: When a baby doesn't get enough oxygen during or shortly before birth, death or disability can be the sad result. Now, findings reported by researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development offer hope for these newborns and their families. By lowering an oxygen-deprived newborn's body temperature to about 92 degrees Fahrenheit within the first six hours of life the chances of death or disability are significantly reduced, according to Doctor Rose Higgins, a program scientist at the NICHD's Neonatal Research Network and an author of the study.
Higgins: Overall we found that there was a reduction in the rate of death or disability in the treated group. It went from 62 percent to 44 percent as a result of the therapy.
Schmalfeldt: In the study, researchers lowered the body temperatures of infants who experienced oxygen deprivation during the birth process. The babies were placed on a soft, plastic blanket through which water circulated. The blanket's temperature was regulated by computer, and the babies remained on the cooled blanket for 72 hours, after which they were gradually warmed to normal body temperature. Researchers compared their results with similarly affected babies who received standard care. The babies were examined at 18 to 22 months of age. Doctor Higgins said these children will continue to be monitored for years.
Higgins: We are going to follow them through early school age. And that is mainly because there appears to be short-term benefit; however, we're not sure if that benefit will be sustained or if there will be other things that emerge as a result of the cooling treatment.
Schmalfeldt: Since most newborn intensive care units do not have the resources or experienced personnel to duplicate the carefully-controlled conditions of the study, Doctor Higgins said doctors will need to exercise extreme caution in putting the study's results into practice. She added that the NICHD is advising the American Academy of Pediatrics to develop practice recommendations for treating infants with this condition, and that three ongoing studies of hypothermia treatment are expected to provide more information on the most effective ways to carry out the treatment. The study appears in the October 13 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Bill Schmalfeldt
Sound Bite: Dr. Rose Higgins