infants have a higher risk of developing serious infection,
but a new detection method developed by U.Va. physicians may
help cut mortality and illness rates.
monitoring system helps high-risk newborns
researchers at the Health System
have developed a method that may alert physicians to early stages
of severe infection in newborn infants. In this month's edition
of the journal Pediatrics, neonatologist Dr. M. Pamela Griffin
and cardiologist Dr. J. Randall Moorman describe a new system
for detecting subtle abnormalities of the heartbeat that may forewarn
doctors about infection before the baby looks sick.
is a major cause of illness and death in newborn babies, and especially
in premature infants," Griffin said. "As many as 25 percent of
very premature babies in intensive care units develop serious
bloodstream infections, making their death rate twice as high
and hospitalizations much longer."
researchers worked with computer software engineers at Medical
Automation Systems in Charlottesville to develop a continuous
online monitoring procedure that requires no contact with the
infant other than standard skin patches to monitor heart rate.
and Moorman studied three groups: babies showing signs of illness
whose blood tested positive for infection; infants who had similar
signs but had blood testing negative for infection; and a control
group without signs of illness. The infants were at high risk
for infection because of low birthweight, prematurity and more
than two weeks' hospitalization.
found that abnormal heart rate characteristics preceded visible
symptoms by as much as 24 hours," Moorman said. The changes
were too subtle to be detected with heart rate monitors currently
used in NICUs. "By the time signs and symptoms show and prompt
doctors to do blood tests, sepsis can have quickly developed to
a severe level."
the published work was completed, the researchers have studied
350 infants in NICUs at U.Va. and Wake Forest University School
of Medicine in North Carolina, and found that the monitoring strategy
developed at U.Va. was also effective at the second hospital.
and Moorman believe the earlier detection method will cut mortality
and illness rates among NICU babies, in addition to saving health
care dollars by shortening hospital stays. They will soon begin
a multicenter clinical study of their device to monitor heart
rate characteristics for purposes of seeking FDA approval.