Childbirth is an emotionally and physically vulnerable experience. Bacteria can infect the parent and the newborn during birth, whether vaginally or via cesarean section. These infections can sometimes cause the parent’s immune response to spiral out of control.
Sepsis, or an extreme response to infection, is the third leading cause of death during or after childbirth worldwide. Every year, millions of maternal sepsis cases are reported, most of which occur in low- and middle-income countries. Doctors may have difficulty detecting and treating it because the typical symptoms of sepsis, such as fever, fast heart rate, and low blood pressure, can also be present during a healthy pregnancy and childbirth.
People planning to give birth vaginally were given a single dose of azithromycin, which reduced their risk of sepsis by 35% in settings with limited healthcare resources.
Since azithromycin is cheap and easy to take, it may be feasible to avoid cases of maternal sepsis in countries with limited healthcare access and where sepsis during or after pregnancy is more common. The study included nearly 30,000 people from seven countries like Bangladesh, India, Zambia, Kenya, and many more.
The researchers followed participants for more than a month after giving birth to find out that 1.6 percent of those who received treatment developed antibiotic sepsis, compared to 2.5 percent of those who did not.
Julie Gerberding, CEO of the National Institutes of Health Foundation, said, “The study is the first step.” And getting the medication to those who need it the most will necessitate a global effort.
According to Gerberding, the WHO could review the findings and decide to include the treatment in its essential medicines program and its obstetric care guidelines.
Maternal mortality is a “glaring area of inequality,” she claims. “Now we have the opportunity to address a very, very dangerous aspect of birth.”
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