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Bacteria Linked to Causing Premature Births

Update Date: Jan 09, 2014 12:32 PM EST

Premature births, which occur before week 38, can be extremely dangerous for both the mother and the unborn child. Infants who are born too early could have underdeveloped organs, which jeopardize their survival rates. In order to reduce the likelihood of giving birth preterm, researchers have looked for potential causes that could be prevented. In a new study, researchers reported that bacteria could be responsible for causing a pregnant woman's water to break early leading to labor weeks before the projected due date.

For this study, the researchers examined premature births caused by the early rupture of the membranes, which is responsible for roughly one-third of all preterm births. The membranes are responsible for holding the baby and when they break, the likelihood of triggering labor is high. Early ruptures are called preterm premature rupture of the membranes (PPROM).

The researchers from Duke University School of Medicine analyzed the membrane samples collected from 48 women who had recently given birth either preterm or full-term. Some of the preterm births were caused by PPROM. When the researchers examined the membranes of the women who had PPROM, they found a higher concentration of bacteria in comparison to the rest of the women in the study. The team concluded that these higher levels of bacteria could be responsible for thinning out the membranes and causing preterm births.

The researchers believe that if these bacteria and how they work could be detailed, preventative measures could be developed. Giving birth full term is very important for child growth and development. Some studies have tied premature births to delayed cognitive growth.

"For instance, if we think that certain bacteria are associated with premature rupturing of the membranes, we can screen for this bacteria early in pregnancy. We then might be able to treat affected women with antibiotics and reduce their risk for PPROM," commented the study's author, Amy Murtha, who is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the university reported by BBC News. "Our research is several steps away from this, but it gives us opportunities to explore potential targeted therapeutic interventions, which we lack in obstetrics."

The study was published in PLOS ONE.

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