Discoveries and Data: Exposures and Risk Factors



In cerebral palsy—which affects 1 to 2 per 1000 children—the brain does not properly control muscles and movement. The causes of brain damage in cerebral palsy are mostly unknown and may be prenatal in origin. Very low birthweight is one risk factor, but about 60% of children with cerebral palsy had normal weight at birth—urinary/reproductive tract infections may account for up to 12% of cerebral palsy in this group.

Infections of the uterus and/or urinary tract were diagnosed or suspected in about 3% of women giving birth. These greatly increased the risk for cerebral palsy in normal birthweight infants. Our findings indicated children were 9 times as likely to develop cerebral palsy if their mothers had:

bullet-7304357 Chorioamnionitis, an infection of the uterus
bullet-7304357 Bladder or kidney infection
bullet-7304357 Sepsis, a generalized infection of the bloodstream
bullet-7304357 Fever of more than 100.4°F or 38°C during labor
bullet-7304357 Foul-smelling amniotic fluid
bullet-7304357 Inflammation of the placenta/umbilical cord.

In most cases of infection, the amniotic membrane ruptured less than 24 hours before delivery. Almost all children with cerebral palsy born to mothers with infection had medical problems as newborns. There was not enough information to determine whether antibiotic treatment or C-section delivery altered the risk of cerebral palsy in children whose mothers had signs of infection. We didn’t look at infections during other points in pregnancy or study other types of illness, such as sore throats, pneumonia or viral infections.

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