Sharp decrease in premature babies during Covid-19 crisis
The number of premature births in the Netherlands decreased by between 15 and 23 percent since measures against the coronavirus started being implemented on March 9, according to a large study by Erasmus MC. Exactly what caused this decrease, will require further investigation, RTL Nieuws reports.
Erasmus MC studied the data of 1.5 million babies born between October 2010 and July 2020, using anonymous data provided by public health institute RIVM from these babies' first screening. The study was prompted by two smaller studies in Denmark and Ireland that noted cautious signs of a decline in premature births since the start of Covid-19 lockdowns.
On March 9 the Dutch government started warning people to wash their hands more, stop giving handshakes, and keep some distance from others.
"It is still speculation, but we do have an idea," Neonatologist-epidemiologist Jasper Been of Erasmus MC said to RTL about the potential causes behind the decrease. "By washing your hands more often and not shaking hands, bacteria and viruses are exchanged less quickly and the chance of an infection is smaller."
Because the decline in prematurely born babies is so significant, an international study is being prepared into the causes behind it. If a cause is found, it may help prevent more premature births in the future. This follow-up investigation is expected to take a year or two.
"We need to link the data to causes like air pollution and infections. That is complicated. But the fact that preterm births are also declining in other countries indicates that there is an outside cause. We hope that we will learn more in time, so that we can better inform parents," Been said to the broadcaster.
The Dutch association for obstetrics and gynecology NVOG and the organization of midwives KNOV are waiting the results of the follow-up study with great interest. "By gaining more insight into the causes of premature births, we will be better able to act accordingly and further reduce the number of premature births in the future," they said.