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Preterm births are easier prevented than thought. Researchers in the United States have found that brushing your teeth properly and maintaining proper oral hygiene reduces the chance of early labour by a large extent.
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The research could help doctors prevent preterm births by encouraging oral hygiene or stop early labour from developing by prescribing targeted antibiotics, Discovery News reported on its website on Wednesday.
“The earlier the woman goes into preterm labor, the higher the chance that she will be infected,” said Yiping Han, a doctor at Case Western University and the first author on the study.
Most human pregnancies last about 40 weeks. A birth prior to 37 weeks is classified as preterm. Babies born preterm can face many hurdles: vision and hearing loss, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, even death.
Labour itself is still somewhat of a mystery to science, which makes puzzling out preterm labour even more difficult. Anything from socioeconomic status and race to bacterial infection and genetics have been linked to preterm births, but a definitive cause is still elusive.
Han and her colleagues think they have found a major cause, at least in mice. By infecting the rodents with Bergeyella, a previously unknown bacteria found in the mice, the researchers caused preterm births.
In humans, the scientists showed a strong correlation between infection and preterm births. Doctors removed amniotic fluid from 46 different women with potentially higher risk pregnancies. Of that group, 21 delivered an early preterm baby (32 weeks or earlier). Nineteen of those women, or about 85%, were positive for previously undetected bacteria.
The bacteria normally live in the mouth, but if a cut, cavity or other wound allows the bacteria to enter the blood stream, they can travel and eventually colonize the uterus. That triggers an immune response, which can inflame the uterus and eventually cause a mother to go into labour prematurely.
To identify bacteria behind preterm labour, doctors used polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Using PCR, the scientists identified the Bergeyella bacterium, as well as DNA belonging to 10 or 11 different strains of newly identified bacteria. Now that doctors know about another link to preterm labour, the next step is to treat it. Antibiotics that specifically target these new bacteria are currently being tested.
Sources: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)