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Cantabrians part of international newborn infection study

Student walking past Zoology building

Thursday 29 September 2011 10:33am

Researchers from the University of Otago, Christchurch, have been a critical part of a world-wide study into treating newborns with infections, which will potentially save the New Zealand health system $200,000 a year.

Despite antibiotics, neonatal infection is a major cause of death and disability. Newborns have low levels of antibodies against infection, known as immune globulins.

Earlier research suggested treating infected newborns with a product called intravenous immune globulin (IVIG), an expensive product extracted from human blood, reduced deaths.

However a study published in this week’s edition of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, shows this is not the case.

Professor Brian Darlow led the research in New Zealand.

The International Neonatal Immunotherapy Study was a clinical trial involving almost 3500 babies with suspected or proven infection from nine countries.

More than 350 New Zealand families took part in the study.

It concluded rates of death or severe disability in babies with suspected or proven infection were the same as those given the placebo – 39 per cent.

Babies either received antibiotics and IVIG, or antibiotics and saline water which doctors and patients could not differentiate from IVIG.

Treatment with IVIG costs more than $1000 per baby and supplies are strictly limited.

Professor Darlow says the study will allow best practise treatment of babies, while in future freeing up hundreds of thousands of dollars for other patients.

The study was funded in New Zealand by the Health Research Council.

Jo Miles’ daughter Abbey was part of the study. Abbey (now six years old) was born at 24 weeks gestation with an infection. Jo Miles says the study results will be very valuable for parents of newborns with infections in future.

“When you have a very small, sick baby you are grieving, and you seem to be getting so much bad news and have so many decisions to make. This study means one less decision to make. It also means the money previously spent on the treatment can be spent elsewhere.’’

For further information, contact

Professor Brian Darlow
Tel 64 3 3644 699 / pager 5038

Kim Thomas
Senior Communications Advisor
University of Otago, Christchurch
Mob 64 27 222 6016

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