Test accurately predicts risk of serious jaundice in newborns:study

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Washington, Jan 13 (UNI) A simple test can accurately identify which newborn babies are at risk of developing dangerous levels of jaundice, according to a new study.

While neonatal jaundice, a yellowing of the skin caused by a build up of a blood product called bilirubin, is common in newborns and usually disappears on its own, it can progress to brain damage in a small fraction of cases, the study said.

The researchers said the predischarge bilirubin measurement, combined with the baby's gestational age, was the most accurate method for predicting whether the newborn was at risk.

They studied outcomes for 823 newborns admitted to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia between September 2004 and October 2005 and found that about 70 per cent of babies fell into the low-risk category, while 13 per cent were designated high risk and 17 per cent were in the middle, the report said.

''The challenge facing every pediatrician who takes care of newborn babies is to identify those infants they send home that will develop a bilirubin level that could cause injury,'' said Ron Keren, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and lead author of the study.

''We found that by measuring the bilirubin in every baby, and combining that information with the baby's gestational age, you could accurately predict which infants were at very high risk and which ones at very low risk,'' Science Daily quoted him as saying.

This screening method should allow pediatricians to determine which newborns should stay in the hospital for monitoring, which may go home and return the next day for another test and which don't need any additional follow-up for jaundice, he said.

''It did a nice job of pulling out a very large group of babies you don't have to worry about and a small group of babies that need to be closely followed,'' Keren said.

About four million babies are born in the US each year. Of those, about 60 per cent will develop jaundice in the first few days of life, but only about one in 100,000 will develop bilirubin levels that cause brain damage, known as kernicterus, the study said.

The authors caution that the study has a few limitations, including a small sample size.

''More research on risk-assessment strategies is needed to weigh the cost of implementing a universal programme and its effectiveness for preventing severe hyperbilirubinemia against false test results, unnecessary testing and treatment, and delay in hospital discharge,'' said Dr Keren.

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