The cause behind cerebral palsy remains a mystery, but a study at the Women's and Children's Hospital in Australia tried to find out if there was a link between preemies, who are more likely to have cerebral palsy, and prenatal infections.
What the researchers wanted to know: Premature babies have a much higher rate of cerebral palsy than babies born at term, but it's not clear why. Does it have anything to do with prenatal infections?
What they did: Researchers used data on premature infants collected at the Women's and Children's Hospital of Adelaide, Australia. They studied all premature babies born 1984 to 1994 who had cerebral palsy, and compared them with babies without cerebral palsy born at the same hospital in the same time period. They studied 82 premature babies with cerebral palsy and 207 without. Specifically, the researchers were looking for evidence of infections of the placenta, such as bacteria in the placenta or the mother having fever, a fast heartbeat, or a high white blood cell count.
What they found: Mothers who gave birth to premature babies with cerebral palsy were almost twice as likely to have had threatened early labor. But there was no such clear difference in the long list of infection indicators. Babies with cerebral palsy had a higher chance of E. coli being isolated from the placenta or amniotic fluid, but the numbers were quite small.
Caveats: The study involved too few cases to find true differences in infections between the two groups. But the authors say it would be worth looking at infections in a bigger study.
What this means to you: Finding a link to prenatal infections would help explain what causes cerebral palsy.
Find out more: A very technical article on chorioamnionitis (infection of the placenta and amniotic fluid) for medical professionals can be found at emedicine.com.
There's less technical information on chorionamnionitis at http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/.
This study was published in the free online journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth.
Read the article: Vigneswaran, R. et al. Cerebral Palsy and Placental Infection: a Case-cohort Study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. Jan. 27, 2004, Vol. 4, No. 1. Available free online at www.biomedcentral.com