One-Third of U.S. Infant Mortality Due to Preterm Birth

New dataset analysis puts number higher than previous figures

TUESDAY, Oct. 3 (HealthDay News) -- A new analysis of data from the United States indicates that one-third of infant mortality is due to complications caused by prematurity, according to a study published in the October issue of Pediatrics.

William M. Callaghan, M.D., of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and colleagues evaluated data from the linked dataset that includes death certificate information for infants who died in 2002 and from birth certificates of those same infants born in 2001 or 2002. These combined data provided more variables including gestational age estimates and weight at birth than those gleaned only from the death certificates. Previously, infant deaths were not analyzed using this new approach, the researchers note.

For 2002, there were 27,970 death files and the 20 leading causes for mortality accounted for 22,273 deaths. For those with an etiology among those 20 leading causes, 9,596 deaths (34.3 percent) were caused by preterm birth. Of that number, 95 percent were infants born at less than 32 weeks gestation and weighing less than 1,500 grams. Two-thirds of these infants died in their first 24 hours. Of these 20 leading causes of infant death, the authors considered the first 11 due in some measure to preterm birth.

"On the basis of this evaluation, preterm birth is the most frequent cause of infant death in the United States, accounting for at least one-third of infant deaths in 2002. The extreme prematurity of most of the infants and their short survival indicate that reducing infant mortality rates requires a comprehensive agenda to identify, to test, and to implement effective strategies for the prevention of preterm birth," the authors conclude.

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