Australian doctors have discovered a cheap and simple solution to a deadly health problem suffered by very premature babies.
One in eight babies born in Australia are born premature, and many babies born eight weeks early can develop a serious bowel condition called necrotising enterocolitis, or NEC.
The potentially fatal condition, which occurs because the baby’s gut is colonised by bad bacteria instead of good bacteria, can require surgery and multiple hospital visits.
Babies with the illness can also have neurological complications such as cerebral palsy.
Dr Girish Deshpande from Sydney’s Nepean Hospital says there are not many effective treatments for the condition, so prevention is the best option.
Because of this, doctors at the hospital have been trialling a probiotic supplement on all babies born eight weeks premature.
Case study: Madison Parsey
It is live, friendly bacteria, similar to that found in some yoghurts.
In this case, doctors sourced the purest probiotic they could find, finding the best one from Switzerland.
It is mixed with breast milk and given to the babies through a feeding tube.
Dr Deshpande says there is good evidence to show that probiotics improve gut integrity.
“They also reduce the inflammation in the gut as well, so it’s very well documented and that’s why we chose probiotics for little pre-term babies here,” he said.
“Probiotics are quite helpful in preventing this serious and deadly condition.”
Fourteen-month-old Madison Parsey was the first Australian baby to have the probiotic.
Her dad Scott says it was an easy decision to take part in the study.
“We came to the conclusion that the benefits far outweighed any negatives,” he said.
“She hasn’t taken a backward step since.
“She tolerated the treatment well. She is now healthy and not showing any signs of health problems.”
An early trial showed the treatment reduced the incidence of bowel disease by 50 per cent.
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