A curious phenomenon was noticed by doctors and hospitals throughout the world during the lockdowns imposed by most countries at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Where have all the preemies gone?
Doctors at neonatal intensive care units at hospitals in various countries began noticing a marked decrease in premature births during government-imposed lockdowns around the world, The New York Times reported. In some cases, the decease was dramatic, especially the earliest high-risk premature births.
Doctors are not sure what factors caused the drop in premature births but are hopeful that research will uncover the reasons and help assist doctors and scientists in future efforts to prevent premature births.
Dr. Roy Phillip, a neonatologist at University Maternity Hospital Limerick, returned from a vacation abroad to Ireland in late March after the country had already been in lockdown for two weeks and was puzzled that there had been no orders for a milk fortifier that is used for the lowest-weight preemies. When the staff told him that no milk fortifiers were ordered because no early preemies were born all month, he was puzzled and intrigued.
Dr. Philip and his colleagues began examining the data, comparing past years’ premature births to those of 2020, and extended the study until the end of June. They were astounded by the results, with Dr. Philip saying that he hasn’t seen such numbers in two decades. No preemies under 2.2 pounds were born during the study period and the number of preemies under 3.3 pounds was drastically reduced.
In Denmark, researchers were also examining data, puzzled by the “nearly empty” NICU. There, they found the number of preemies born before 28 weeks was reduced by 90%!
Similar phenomena were noticed in hospitals in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States. However, the phenomenon did not seem to be universal, with some hospitals reporting a drop in premature births but a less dramatic drop than other hospitals experienced and others reporting no drop at all.
Researchers hypothesized possible causes for the drop in premature births, such as increased rest due to the lockdown, with some saying that pregnant women who were staying at home due to the lockdown may have gotten more sleep and experienced less stress from work and commuting. They may have also avoided contracting other infections such as the flu which can increase the chances of premature births..
However, Dr. Denise Jamieson, an obstetrician at Emory University’s School of Medicine in Atlanta, said she would have expected the opposite, an increase in premature births due to the stress of the pandemic.
“It seems like we have experienced tremendous stress in the U.S. due to COVID,” she said.
Another hypothesis is the reduction of pollution during lockdowns, another factor that has been linked to premature births
Researchers in Ireland and Denmark are now collaborating on research on the reduction in premature births and are forming an international group of researchers to study how coronavirus lockdowns affected premature births.
“For years, nothing has advanced in this very important area,” Dr. Michael Christiansen of the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen said, “and it seems it took a virus attack to help us get on track.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)