In a study of around 150,000 pregnancies globally, a type of screening for abnormal vaginal bacteria could potentially reduce preterm births by 67 per cent.
A preterm birth is classified as one that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. Around a million premature babies die globally every year, with around 58,000 premature births annually in the UK.
The new screening, not currently available on the NHS, looks at the shift in the balance between good and bad bacteria, with harmful bacteria multiplying in an alkaline environment.
These bacteria cause infection, shortening of the cervix and eventually premature birth, the researchers said in the study conducted at Semmelweis University, Hungary. The new screening involves a simple swab of the vagina during pregnancy with a brush stick.
Considering the devastation caused to families by neonatal death, any advances in medical care should be positive news. Currently, however, the UK National Screening Committee, a government body that advises ministers and the NHS, does not recommend the use of screening, stating 'there is no evidence that it would be able to accurately identify women at risk of having problems in labour'.
Maternity care in the UK is of course under intense scrutiny following the damning reports into safety at hospital trusts in Nottingham and Shrewsbury and Telford. Restoring public faith in maternity care depends on at least considering reported advances in pregnancy safety, particularly those that are relatively straightforward and simple to manage.
I certainly look forward to reading more about the potential of this proposed new screening.
Jane Weakley specialises in birth injury claims, particularly those involving cerebral palsy.
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