(NaturalNews) Undiagnosed infections during pregnancy may be a significant cause of preterm birth, according to a study conducted by researchers from Stanford University and published in the journal PLos ONE.
"If we could prevent these infections in the first place, or detect them sooner, we might one day be able to prevent some of these premature births," researcher Dan DiGiulio said.
From October 1998 to December 2002, researchers took samples of amniotic fluid from 166 women who were undergoing preterm labor at the Detroit Medical Center. They then used two different methods to analyze this fluid for infectious agents: the traditional method, involving growing cultures in a lab, and a newer method that involves analyzing amniotic fluid for the DNA of different pathogens.
Using the DNA analysis method, the researchers found evidence of infection in 25 of the women tested - from 17 different species of bacteria, one species of fungus and one unidentifiable organism that might be formerly unknown species. The older method, in contrast, found evidence of only 11 species, leading the researchers to suggest that scientists have until now significantly underestimated the prevalence of such infections.
Many organisms do not survive the process of amniotic fluid sampling, and can therefore not be grown in laboratory cultures afterward.
The researchers further found that while 100 percent of the infected women ended up giving birth to premature infants, 38 percent of the non-infected women were able to stop their preterm labor.
A birth is considered premature if it occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy. Children born before the 32nd week are significantly more likely to die or to suffer from breathing problems, cerebral palsy, infections or underdeveloped organs than children born later. Two-thirds of all infants who are born before the 25th week of pregnancy do not survive.
An estimated 12 percent of births in the United States are premature, and researchers say the rate of such births is increasing.