Hospital Staff Must Watch Jaundice More Carefully

CHICAGO-"Drive-thru" deliveries may be responsible for an increase in a rare condition that causes brain damage. Babies who are sent home a day after birth may not be treated for jaundice, which can lead to kernicterus.

Kernicterus, which was common in the 1940s and 1950s, has become rare in the last several decades. The condition can cause several cerebral palsy, hearing loss, teeth malformations, and other malformations.

Kernicertus is caused when the brain receives too many bilirubin cells. The liver is supposed to filter these cells out of the blood stream; however, most infants' livers do not begin working for several days after their birth. Jaundice, which is causes a yellowing of the skin, involves an elevated level of bilirubin. Jaundiced babies are often placed under fluorescent lights that make these cells more easily filtered by the liver.

Babies sent home healthy may still develop jaundice. If untreated, this can cause kernicertus.

Doctors are not certain how bilirubin damages the brain, but autopsies of infants with the disease have found yellow staining the region of the brain that controls movement. Kernicterus is not monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) is asking healthcare workers to monitor jaundice more carefully to protect infants. The commission recommends that all newborns with jaundice receive medical follows-ups within two days after being sent home. Parents should also be educated about jaundice and the risks associated.

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