CONTACT: Diane Duke (314) 286-0111
Use of Surfactant Therapy Widens Gap in Death Rate of Black and White Newborns
St. Louis, June 18, 1996 -- Premature infants with undeveloped lungs have a better chance of surviving today due to the advent of surfactant therapy, a liquid that allows babies' lungs to inflate. After the Food and Drug Administration in 1990 approved the use of surfactant to treat potentially fatal breathing problems, the death rate of premature infants dropped significantly.
But a new study of 1,563 premature births in St. Louis by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine shows that the overall drop is due exclusively to a reduced number of deaths in premature white infants. After the introduction of surfactant therapy, the researchers found that the overall mortality rate of premature infants in the study dropped 16 percent. However, the drop was traced to a 41 percent decrease in the death rate of premature white infants. The researchers found no change in the death rate of premature black infants.
"We found that this therapy, which has been shown to be effective, did not have the anticipated effect on the disparity in the black and white newborn death rates once it became widely used in clinical practice," said Aaron Hamvas, M.D., lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics.
Surfactant therapy is given to premature infants with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). The breathing disorder strikes up to 50,000 of the 250,000 premature infants born annually in the United States and kills 5,000 each year. RDS is caused by the inability of the premature infants' lungs to make surfactant, which is produced in the lungs of a fetus starting in the last trimester and continuing until birth. Premature infants, those who weigh less than 4 pounds, generally do n
Contact: Diane Duke
Washington University School of Medicine
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