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Press Release

February 10, 2003
Contact: CDC, Media Relations
(404) 639-3286

CDC Funds Infant Brain Damage Prevention Initiatives

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is providing approximately $1.3 million in funding over the next three years for research and the prevention of kernicterus, a serious but preventable type of brain damage in infants that can lead to cerebral palsy, hearing loss and complications with vision and teeth. Recipients are the Pennsylvania Hospital in collaboration with Parents of Infants and Children with Kernicterus (PICK) and Saint Peter’s University Hospital, UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Kernicterus is caused by severe and untreated jaundice. While jaundice is very common in newborn infants, any baby with severe jaundice that is not managed and treated in a timely manner is at risk for kernicterus. However, not every baby with yellow skin will have brain damage because treatment is effective when appropriately administered.

The CDC funding will enable the grantees to develop a kernicterus tracking system and provide resources for a national prevention campaign that will include educational programs to improve the recognition of other risk factors by health care providers and raise awareness among expecting parents. Since kernicterus has not been a reportable condition in the United States, a population-based tracking system will help estimate prevalence, which in turn will lead to increased awareness.

Dr. José F. Cordero, director of the CDC National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD), said early detection is critical to the prevention of the irreversible effects of kernicterus. “Infants discharged less than 48 hours after delivery should be examined by a health care provider within the following two to three days for a routine follow-up and a jaundice assessment,” he said. “It is important that health care providers and expectant parents understand the risks of jaundice if not treated in a timely manner.”

Kernicterus was common in the United States in the 1950's and was the second leading cause of cerebral palsy. It was believed to have been eliminated by the 1970's, although it continued to occur in other parts of the world, principally in underdeveloped countries. However, since the 1990’s, a pilot registry has documented over 125 cases of kernicterus in the United States.

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